Friday, April 19, 2013

Cynicism and the new Dove ad

You've seen the new Dove ad already, right? If not, you should see it. It's really an incredible piece. Watch it full screen, it's worth it.

As I said, this is really an incredible piece, for all kinds of reasons. It's a phenomenal concept... the experiment alone could easily be someone's doctoral thesis. The execution is perfect: on a purely artistic level, it's brilliantly shot and edited. And the message hits hard. I don't know a woman that wouldn't be impacted by this. Heck, I'm far outside the target demographic and it still got to me. They did a great job with it. And it's not even the first one of these Dove has made. Remember this?

And yet by the middle of the first viewing all of my warning bells are going off. Are there some good thoughts in here? Absolutely. Are most women too hard on themselves? Sure. As a man, can I make blanket statements about women without being labeled a sexist? Probably not. But the point stands: while there's a ton of good in this ad that will be helpful for a lot of women, it doesn't change the fact that this is an ad. A brilliant ad, a clever ad, a well-produced ad, but still an ad. Dove isn't running a charity, here, they're trying to sell more soap.

How much money per second do you think Dove spent on this ad? The typical Super Bowl ad is, what, 100k per second? More? How much do you think they spent for a 180-second video? Do you think Dove execs think this was a good investment? If you ran a beauty supply company, how much would you pay to have women forward the following quote to each other while crying about it?
I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn't be more critical to our happiness.
I'll let others deconstruct the ad itself... notice the use of word clusters: "thin" and "pretty" with "happy," "fat" with "sad," etc. At $100,000 per second, there's not an unintentional word in there. I'm not particularly anti-corporate, so it doesn't bother me that the same company that sells women-empowering Dove soap also sells a soap brand for guys: the extremely progressive and women-empowering Axe. I'm not even stressed about the fact that about 10 seconds of the ad is devoted to women who aren't blond Caucasians. Gotta work the FPLM magic somehow. I just want to point out the thesis of the ad: beauty couldn't be more critical to our happiness.

I know that I can be cynical. I'm not necessarily proud of it. But when I see something like this, I can't help but ask "What does the author want to be true?" and "Should I believe that?"  It's shocking how frequently the second answer is "No."

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