Barbara Lippert’s Critique: A Thing Of Beauty

Our hypersexualized pop culture seems to be having its own little morality-based nervous breakdown. The latest two-faced psychodrama? The Monday Night Football opener. The NFL was repulsed to see a desperate housewife’s naked back, but has no qualms about the endless “four-hour erection” disclaimers made in E.D. ads broadcast during a game.

You really can’t blame them for being mixed up, considering that these days, 30-plus years into the women’s movement, anything short of “Girls Gone Wild” is labeled “feminist” and learning how to pole dance like Pammy Anderson did for Tommy Lee is “empowering.”

The election would suggest that the real tug for advertisers now is how to get back in touch with red-state “values.” But in light of the continuing pornification of mainstream culture (take any of Paris Hilton’s escapades), I would wager that some in the red states are buying some of the blue stuff. And there’s enough hypocrisy on all sides to fill a battleground state: What is the real family value, may I ask, on Fox’s The Swan? (Fox, of course, also gives us Paris’ reality show.) Contestants come off the plastic-surgery assembly line looking like perfect stripper material. The long, blonde Paris-Hilton-like hair extensions, giant breasts, va-va-va-voom gowns and puffed-up lips are all very Miss Piggy—who was supposed to be a caricature of feminine vanity, if you recall.

That’s why I love this new Dove spot, in which 500 long, blonde-wig-wearing women stream into downtown San Francisco. The march of the platinum clones has a chilling effect—these robo-blondes are definitely not having more fun. The look of the film is gritty, desaturated, almost black and white; the vibe is ominous when an announcer asks, “How long have we been chasing someone else’s idea of beauty?” and then suggests, “Maybe one-size-fits-all hair doesn’t fit you.”

This is heresy in the world of haircare, where we are primed to believe that the next $300 process will make all the difference.

Then we get close-ups, and the women are as different as can be—Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, tall, short, old, young, etc. On cue, they all flip their wigs up in the air—the ultimate gesture of freedom, like so many Mary Tyler Moores, in Minneapolis, saying, “I’m gonna make it after all!”

“Rediscover the beauty of your own hair,” the announcer says, as the title card directs us to

The spot, for conditioners and shampoos, is one of several components under Dove’s rather radical campaignforrealbeauty umbrella. This huge global creative branding breakthrough (and out of Unilever, yet!)is moving the soap maker into the iconic image area of Apple or Nike—creating a distinct look and mind-set and an emotional attachment to the brand rather than specific products.

It started in England, with a much-publicized campaign showing real (unretouched) overweight women in various states of undress, unselfconsciously revealing the effects of Dove firming cream (“as tested on real curves”). The photos, taken by Rankin, the Brit documentarian, were magnetic and dazzling—shot against white space, they emitted an Avedon-like energy and buzz; the women came off as incredibly attractive and self-possessed.

The no-retouching rule is truly mind-blowing—we are not used to seeing anything this natural in the category. An American variation can be seen in magazines and outdoor boards right now—a huge billboard in Times Square shows a picture of an older African American woman with the questions “Wrinkled?” and “Wonderful?” given their own tick boxes. Others in the series show a very befreckled redhead (“Ugly spots?” “Beauty spots?”) and a great-looking gray-haired woman (“Grey?” “Gorgeous?”). The wrinkled/wonderful woman, by the way, amazingly enough, is 96. Most beauty ads make me want to hit the Häagen-Dazs. This makes me want to celebrate.

But back to our blondies discarding their wigs. Of course, “Anthem” fits into the larger trend this year of showing giant crowds converging in the streets (PlayStation, Adidas, etc.). One reason for all the crowds, I guess, is that clients want to make big statements—and maybe think that a crowd suggests mass adulation. This spot was staged as an actual PR event. It was cast in four cities; all of the women are non-actors, and some of them will appear in individual testimonial spots (directed by Mark Decktor) that will start running in March.

Will women really start loving their own hair and wearing it as naturally as possible? Probably not, for now. And yes, these same attempts have been made on and off, in between backlash moments, for the last 20 years. Even Dove soap has used real women in some form for that long. But still, Dove deserves credit for creating an intelligent and memorable way to spark a change in thinking and attitude as part of an overall cohesive global branding effort. Amid all the other cultural incongruities for women these days, the Dove campaign—for red states, and blue states, in all its white space—is the essence of decency.

Unilever’s Dove


Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago

Wig TV spot

Executive creative director

Joe Sciarrotta

Group creative director

Maureen Shirreff

Creative directors

Rock Pausig, Alan Spindle

Agency producer

Adele Testore


Jeff Preiss/Epoch Films

Tick Box (print, outfoor)


Steve Hayden,

Dennis Lewis

OgilvyOne (Web site)


Jan Leth