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Real beauty sketches: cynical marketing ploy?

4 May 2013 One Comment

Telling a compelling story is the key to getting content shared across social networks, extending reach, increasing visibility and thereby creating awareness.

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketch’ video is a perfect example.  As part of Dove’s ongoing “Campaign for Real Beauty.” this Internet-only commercial shows a forensic sketch artist drawing women, as they describe how they look from behind a screen. Then he draws a second sketch of each woman, as they are described by someone who had only just met them. The two sketches are then seen displayed side by side; and it’s easy to see that the portraits drawn from the strangers’ descriptions are a much more attractive version of each woman.  The tagline reads: “You are more beautiful than you think.”

As viral videos go, it’s hard to argue with the success of Real Beauty Sketches.  It’s been viewed more than 32 million times and has been covered by mainstream media the world over.

It’s clear that people love the heartwarming story, and the call for women to stop being so hard on themselves definitely resonates far beyond the original target audience. However, the video is not without its critics. They say the video defines female beauty too narrowly by focusing on young, white, thin women. Also, there are accusations that the video tells women that they themselves are blame for sexism in society.

This criticism is actually another measure of success.  Getting people talking about the importance of positive self concept among women as the key driver to personal confidence and happiness is a key objective of the campaign.  So again, Dove has hit this one out of the ballpark.

But, creating awareness is one thing, getting people to behave differently is quite another. And in Dove’s case this mean getting women to buy soap. Will this video drive in sales?

Yes it probably will; look what ‘the man your man could smell like’ did for Old Spice sales. However, that campaign used humour and nostalgia as key motivators. The sketch video’s serious themes and emotional storyline play differently.

Will new customers become loyal long-term buyers of Dove-branded products on the back of this video?  It seems likely, but there is one little issue that could hinder long-term success: sincerity.  Does Unilever, owner of the Dove brand, actually believe in what the Campaign for Real Beauty is about?  Or is it a cynical ‘marketing ploy’ to manipulate women as means of delivering shareholder value?

For the answer, look to the marketing initiative behind ‘The Axe Effect’ which promotes Axe-branded deodorants and shower gels, and is also a Unilever brand. This video shows hundreds of bikini-clad sex-mad babes racing each other over hills and valleys to reach the man who uses Axe products.  The video has been viewed more than 40 million times.

How can one company hold two such polarizing views of women and expect to be taken seriously as a champion of ‘Real Beauty’? It’s trust that is the fundamental building block of any long-term relationship, including customer relationships. Will women trust Dove enough to keep buying it?  Only time will tell.

This post was originally published on Thornley Fallis.

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