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Dove Sketches Have a Sketchy Underlying Message

Dove Sketches Have a Sketchy Underlying Message

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is a world wide marketing campaign that launched in 2004. It aims to admire the natural beauty that women have despite the differences they may have. Their campaign strategies include advertisements, videos, workshops, events, a book, and play production.

One of their most successful campaigns was a short film launched in 2013 called “Dove Real Beauty Sketches“. This campaign highlights the idea that women are their own worst critics and they are more beautiful than they think. A group of several women had been selected to take part in the campaign at a loft in San Francisco, without being told what exactly was going to happen. These several women each described themselves to a professional forensic sketch artist, Gil Zamora, that was behind a screen, unable to see the women. The following day, another woman that the initial subject was told to get close with, also talk to Zamora and explained to him what they saw in that woman. The sketches were then compared after, with the stranger’s image being significantly more flattering than the image of the women describing themselves. The idea behind this is that we, as humans, focus more on our flaws and become our own worst critics, not allowing ourselves to see the beauty that strangers see when they look at us.

Two versions of this video were released, a six-minute version, as well as a three-minute version. After three days, the three-minute version had been downloaded 7.5 million times, and the six-minute version had been viewed more than 900,000 times. After a week, the videos had more than 15 million views between them.

Overall the campaign was successful. It was on Buzzfeed’s top 10 items. The video was among Buzzfeed’s top 10 and, according to AdAge, the campaign generated almost 30 million views as well as  660,000 Facebook shares during its first ten days. The campaign also topped Cannes YouTube Ads leader board and went on to win the Titanium Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

However, all the feedback on the campaign was not positive. One concern that was expressed is that the video still holds to the idea what a woman’s image is what defines her beauty. Avi Dan, a blogger for Forbes and founder of Avidan Strategies, expresses that “The video pretends to debunk the notion that how you look always seems to be more important than who you are. But I feel like it’s still focusing too much on appearance.” In the video, after seeing the sketches, one of the participants expressed, “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty.  It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, the way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.” By including this quote, Dove is further expressing that beauty is only an external factor that ultimately defines one’s happiness.

Virginia Postrel, a writer for Bloomberg, expressed another concern of the campaign, about how it was inaccurately done for experimental purposes. The first issue was that the participants were not selected at random. Even further into that, the video was edited down to show only seven of the twenty women that participated in the campaign. Virginia Postrel also questioned the structure of the campaign. She expressed that is was inaccurate that the sketch artist did not show the women the sketches to confirm if they believed them to be accurate, diverging from a normal procedure a sketch artist would use.

Perhaps the most negative attention this campaign has raised is how Dove hardly incorporates races other than Caucasian into the video.  While women of other races were shown to have participated, the video does not show them for very long, neither does it focus on any of their stories. Dove put several names on the bottom of the screen through the video as select women were describing themselves and through the process of the campaign. The names that were given were Olivia, Melinda, Florence, Kela, and Kela had expressed that Chloe was the stranger that went in after to describe her. Two non-white women were shown in the ad describing themselves briefly, however, Dove did not put their names in the video nor did the video go back and show their reactions to the strangers’ image. Of the four women whose names were given and stories were followed through the video, three of them had blonde hair and blue eyes, and all of them were thin, something that would be stereotypically defined as “beauty”. Jazz Brice, @jazzylittledrops, on Tumblr expresses her complaints about the diversity issue in this campaign by saying “When it comes to the diversity of the main participants: all four are Caucasian, three are blonde with blue eyes, all are thin, and all are young (the oldest appears to be 40)… Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.”

Jazz Brice, @jazzylittledrops, Tumblr post about “Real Beauty Sketches”

This demonstrates a sense of structured racism because it is due to the society’s structure that a large number of groups that have a minority background are being excluded from the video. While they are still part of the campaign and can briefly be seen they are being overlooked as the highlight of the video focuses on light skinned women. Dove selected the women to focus on in the campaigned and out of the 20 that participated, all four that were emphasized were white women. Even further this ties into the social construction of race. A race is assumed based on a person’s appearance and does not come down biology.  Dove did not ask any of the women for their ethnicity and base their decisions on that, but rather looked at the women and decided who they thought would be most appealing to better the campaign. In Dove’s eyes that appears to be the four white women they chose, even more so the blond haired, blue eyed bias they had.

There were several things that Dove could have done differently in the campaign that would have likely caused them to receive less backlash. First of all, they could have released it as a series. Each episode of the series could feature a different woman in the campaign and showed more of the entire process.  By doing so, every woman would be equally represented through the campaign. However, they would need to be sure that a diverse group of women was chosen. Another idea would be if Dove was to use the same structure, be sure the group of women chosen was diverse. For example, they could use one white woman, a black woman, perhaps a lighter skinned black woman, and another minority to be represented. While these women participated in the campaign, they were not represented by the featured women. To address the issue that Dove defines beauty by looks, the campaign could have the women describe other aspects of themselves that also define who they are. Examples could be that they define themselves as being a mother, a businesswoman, or a volunteer somewhere that could have found their way into the sketch. Florence is a single mother of two, however, none of that came up when she was describing herself, yet it still is part of who she is and her beauty as a person. Dove released a separate video of Florence doing an interview about herself and her self esteem.  While it’s nice to see, the fact that it is separate from the campaign itself gives it a different feel and does not relate the campaign directly to her talking about the experiences that created the beauty of her not by physical appearance.


When it comes to decision making and strategizing for a campaign, Dove needs to think of the bigger picture and all the points that are trying to get across. Dove was focusing on outer beauty when they should have been focusing on women empowerment and loving ourselves regardless of size, race, or ability. They also need to acknowledge their audience and make sure their audience is represented equally throughout the campaign. These ideas connect to the social causes dealing with woman’s body positivity, embracing a woman’s natural beauty. The Body Positive is a non-profit that has been around since 1996 addressing these issues and help women see their true beauty. A company like this would be a good one for Dove to pair with to create a body positive campaign regardless of color, size, or race. Perhaps Dove could do a collaboration with them where a certain percentage of proceeds are donated to the cause.

About The Author

Cori Dawson

Cori Dawson is a junior studying Communications in school. She hopes to used her communications skills to spread awareness about social issues she cares about.

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