Friday, July 13, 2007

Accentuate the Positive

First of all, Revena and the rest of the crew at The Hathor Legacy are crazy. They've obviously caught me on one too many good days.

Secondly, I should be in bed.

Third, you should really go check out the rest of the blogs they picked. The ones I already recognized are very good, and the others that I've checked out so far are as well.

And since the topic is thinking, I thought I'd share a few thoughts prompted by the archives at Marketing to Women Online.

I recently started using Dove shampoo/conditioner and deodorant.

I like both. Although I can't promise how long the shampoo/conditioner part will last. I can't seem to find one I like. And I hate the design of their economy sized bottles. (Stupid Dove, my hands are smaller than average, not bigger! And please get on the upside down trend.) Which I pretty much must buy not because of the cost but because my hair is insanely thick and currently long and I run through regular sized bottle way too fast.

I bring this up because one of the posts talks about the Dove ad campaign and an article by a guy discussing it's effectiveness. Holly concedes that dude Seth may be right, Dove's campaign may get a lot of positive attention now, but the goodwill may turn sour once the campaign has lost it's novelty. She ends, however, by saying that Dove has finally made it onto her radar screen while shopping, and that's a big first step.

What we really have are two questions. It's not just, "Did Dove make a good decision or not?", it's "Did Dove make a good decision?" and "How far should they push it?" In another post Holly mocks* people who have just now realized that advertising requires strategy. Maybe Holly means something different by strategy than I think she does, but it seems to me that Seth's long term grade supposes that Dove's strategy ends with the part of the campaign that we had seen at that point.

When companies are trying to completely re-brand, their initial advertising is always much more "edgy" than later and - even the majority of concurrent - ads. (ABC bananas, anyone?) There is no reason to think that Dove will be consistently aggressive** in promoting their tagline of "real beauty." In fact, having never seen any ads on the actual TV except for their stupid deodorant ones, I can safely say their initial ads were as much about getting free positive publicity - mostly heard/viewed by a targeted demographic*** - than the effect of the ads on the average viewer.

I personally think that the Dove ads were a freakin' brilliant move, and that their best strategy is to make the long term campaign balance out more widely accepted images of beauty with the occasional well-placed "edgy" ad.

They get bonus points for focusing their most recent mini-campaign around one of the things women simultaneously fear and love the most. Being an older woman means being invisible to the male gaze, something that women are taught to fear. Being older means supposedly being ugly in an irreversible way, which is what makes one invisible to the male gaze.

But being older also often means being better at ignoring the male gaze and loving the real you. Even for younger women, images of older women don't just make us say "ick, I don't want to think about that!" When done well, they often remind younger women of the people they admire most: their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, great aunts, mentors, role models, etc.

Dove manages to demolish the idea that older women are not beautiful and remind women that inner beauty matters too. And in just 30 seconds? And lucky Dove for getting rejected by TV. What brand doesn't want to be considered both too riske for the mainstream and yet not too out there for baby boomers - and beyond?

Which brings us to edgy advertising. Something Holly has also written about.

There is a difference between being shocking and being outside the norm. Sometimes the two converge, but not always. The Bluefly ad Holly talks about is shocking, but it's hardly outside the norm. The TJ Maxx, commercial, on the other hand, is not really shocking at all, but it's certainly not quite as done to death as using women's bodies to sell products. Especially not when it's a woman - and one other than the bride - focusing on something other than "happily ever after" at a wedding.

Same with the Dove campaign. There is a insane amount of idiotic "just be you!" advertising out there. Besides not being idiotic (yes, I'm talking to you, Sprite), the Dove commercials manage to be "just be you!" ads while also being both shocking and outside the norm. As the shock wears off, they will have to rely on other techniques to sell their products. But as the success of "Let Me Play" campaign showed, women are more then willing to open their wallets to brands that market themselves as anything resembling real empowerment. And like the Nike ads, Dove's new campaign makes emotional connections**** to it's potential consumers that last long beyond the shock and awe. Plus, Dove also has the huge gap between "ideal" beauty and real beauty on their side. It's not like they have to try to convince people that up is down, they just have to remind everyone that variety is a good thing and women are wonderful in all kinds of ways. Unless TPTB are stupid, Dove's "real beauty" campaign should do well for quite a while.

Like Holly, and apparently a lot of other women, Dove is on my radar. This is after years of seeing it as the kind of soap that grandmothers with no flair or taste use. Even more shocking than the shampoo/conditioner and deodorant, I've even now been known to use Dove body wash instead of Bath and Body Works.

And none of this was on purpose. I didn't see the Dove ads and decide "I'm going to support pseudo-feminist brands today!" I walked into Tarjay to buy shampoo/conditioner/deodorant/soap and thought "Huh, why don't I give this a try. Looks as good as anything else." And turns out it is. Possibly even just the tiniest bit better than most of my previous regulars.

Plus, as another article points out, "If more women feel beautiful, goes the underlying marketing premise, more will be inspired to take great care of themselves by buying beauty and hygiene products." (It also has some interesting stuff to say about men and women and wanting to be connected versus being on the top of the heap.)

Far too much of the advertising aimed at women is about making us feel worthless without what is being sold - especially when it comes to our value as objects to be looked at. Imagine if most of the ads aimed at men were like those stupid Bowflex commercials. That's pretty much how most things are sold to women. Especially when it comes to beauty products - or pretty much anything not directly related to kids or housework.

It's not just that Dove is now on my radar. It's also that I didn't care before that Dove's soap was soft, but now I do. And it's not because I now believe that it's soft and I didn't before. It's because not feeling shitty about myself makes me feel like I deserve small pleasures like soft soap, instead of soap that is simply smelly and may - in an alternate universe - get me noticed.

Advertising does work, it just doesn't all work. I think it's safe to say, though, that Dove's campaign works better than many, if not most.


*Gently, though. She's a lot classier and more professional than I am. At least on her blog, anyway. :)

**Yes, I realize that there is lots about the ads that aren't aggressive at all.

***and by target demographic, I don't just mean "women who buy beauty products and soap" I also mean "women who look critically at how such things are advertised to women." I do not know what my mom, sister, etc. would think of Dove's ads. But I also don't know if they've seen most of them. But I can promise you that every single flippin' feminist and budding feminist blogger/lurker/bitch reader/etc. has heard of them and thinks of the campaign as a whole in a more positive light - despite still having complaints - than just about any other ads for such products.

****I still cry whenever I see those damn ads. And I hate Nike.


Revena said...

I like how you imply that you only write excellent posts on (presumably rare) good days right at the top of a excellent post. ;-)

I'd never seen the Nike commercial you reference, and now I'm feeling a bit teary myself. Wow.

Mickle said...

Well, they seem to come and go. I've certainly said more than my fair share of dumb things on the world wide web. :) And I really hadn't meant for my musings on the Dove campaign to get that long. Which is fairly typical.

re: the Nike ad, part of it's impact has to do with the truth of the ad. All those things the girls are saying are based on real research that was published just prior to the the start of the campaign. (by independent women's studies researchers.) Just as importantly, even girls and women who do not know the stats recognize the truth of the ad; it's something a lot of us don't need studies to prove: knowing that your body is strong and useful is powerful ammunition against the more negative opinions girls hear about their bodies and how they look and what they are worth.

The same is true of what women consider to be beautiful. I think that how women answer this question largely depends on the context and the synonyms used for "beautiful" - ie, the stronger the presence of the male gaze, the more restrictive women's definitions are likely to be. We know that not being Barbie does not make us ugly, but we also know that we are supposed to see even our most endearing imperfections and uniquenesses as evidence that we are.

A lot of what Dove is (smartly) trying to do is remind women of the joy of - rather than need for - dressing up. While also steering far away from questions of whom we are dressing up for.

ps, thanks, btw. I've had some really long days the past few weeks, and this definitely put a smile on my face.

Revena said...

I'm glad it perked you up. And I think you're quite right about the Dove campaign.