Dove Campaign is (obvious) Sham

I’m shocked by how many of my lady friends, many of whom are highly educated, have been taken in by Dove’s (brilliant!) marketing sham.

It’s an ad campaign called “Real Beauty Sketches”, which went viral this week. The YouTube video has amassed 6 million views in three days. HuffPo even wrote a glowing article about it here. It’s one of the most effective “viral marketing” ploys I’ve seen in a while.

The campaign’s premise is that women are in reality more beautiful than they generally think they are. And Dove purports to have done an experiment that proves it. In the video, a forensic artist listens to women speak about their own faces and then sketches a likeness based on their self-descriptions, sight unseen. He later draws a second image of each woman based on someone else’s description of her. Lo and behold - the images drawn from the self-descriptions are ugly, whereas those drawn from others’ descriptions are beautiful!

Sounds like an awesome experiment, right? If you watch the video, though, you’ll quickly notice that this was not in any way a scientifically valid experiment.

First, the forensic artist must have known the result Dove was hoping to get from this so-called experiment before he began drawing. He also knew whether a woman was describing herself, or whether someone else was describing her. In other words, he knew to make the self-descriptions look ugly and the other-descriptions pleasant.

Second, a stranger is obviously going to describe someone’s face in a positive manner to another stranger, lest they be deemed an arrogant prick. Very few people are going to come out and say “she had a fat face with a huge chin” in that context, even if that’s what they were actually thinking.

Third, even if this were a validly conducted experiment, the examples they show in the video are cherry-picked! How do we know how many drawings they in fact went through to find the few that proved their point? We don’t.

To make matters worse, it turns out there have in fact been legitimate studies done on the issue of self-perception, which tell a very different tale from Dove’s ad. According to such studies, both men and women systematically over-estimate how attractive we are, relative to how others perceive us, not under.

That’s right. The truth is that we’re actually uglier than we think we are.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I’m content to delude myself into thinking I’m amazing. Seems better than a life wasted in self-doubt.

Perhaps the real lesson to draw from all this is that women in today’s society are disturbingly insecure. If a clever ad gets us all to think more deeply about our vulnerabilities, and makes us feel a bit better about ourselves in the process, maybe a little deception isn’t so bad after all.

And, as it so happens, I actually love Dove. They make great soap, which keeps my skin looking young and beautiful. I’m sure you’ll agree!


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