Ogilvy Toronto's latest effort in its "Real Beauty" campaign for Dove has been getting lots of praise in recent days. But while it's certainly sneaky and attention getting, it required its own retouching to be believable.
What the agency did was create a Photoshop action (essentially, a plug-in) that claimed to add a fake skin glow to a model's appearance in a photo—but in fact reverted the image to its original, pre-manipulated state. The agency then seeded the action on Reddit, where art directors and photo retouchers could download it. Then, when they went to use it, they would be lightly admonished with a screen message that read, "Don't manipulate our perceptions of real beauty." (They would have the option of undoing the action, lest all their nefarious airbrushing were actually lost.)
Clever, yes. Effective? It depends.
It's been getting press, and in that sense it achieved its goal. But the campaign purposely misrepresents itself, which is a curious choice for a brand built on honesty to do.
Did significant numbers of people download this action and use it? No. The Reddit item barely got any upvotes. And professional retouchers aren't exactly known for trolling Reddit looking for free actions offering a vague "skin glow" effect. Rather, here the case-study video itself (see below) is the marketing. And in that sense, it's hollow—and not in keeping with the brand promise.
Here's what Dove says about the stunt: "After years of celebrating Real Beauty and helping women find happiness in how they look, Dove decided to try something different. For the first time, we spoke directly to those responsible for manipulating our perception of beauty—art directors, graphic designers and photo retouchers—in a place only they could be reached."
In fact, Dove didn't speak to any of them directly. Its agency had a clever idea it knew wouldn't really work in the real world, but went ahead with it anyway—and then let the video make it seem like something it wasn't. Isn't that just the kind of obfuscating that Dove claims to oppose? Isn't it a little odd that a brand that's devoted to making a real difference would agree to make such a theoretical one? Don't manipulate our perceptions of real beauty? OK, but only if you don't manipulate the effects of a campaign that was never intended to achieve anything like what it claims to.
The stunt got people talking, but at what cost? Dove is a brand built on trust. And while it may seem like splitting hairs, don't we now know that the brand will bend the truth a little to suit its goals?
Ogilvy has done great work for Dove, including the famous "Evolution" video. This latest stunt is awards bait, but not much more.
Agency: Ogilvy, Toronto
Creative Directors: Matt Hassell, Ian MacKellar
Art Director: Stefan D'Aversa
Copywriter: Noah Feferman
Account Director: Aviva Groll
Account Supervisor: Asha Davis