Dove slips up with bottle ad boo-boo

The shapes of the bottles in the advertisement include curvy, slender and pear-shaped.
The shapes of the bottles in the advertisement include curvy, slender and pear-shaped.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

The body wash brand's new advertisement, featuring bottles reflecting various body types, draws consumers' ire

NEW YORK • Dove has inadvertently worked up a lot of foam from consumers.

After years of encouraging women to love their bodies, the company set out to give its plastic body wash bottles a makeover.

The idea: "Just like women, we wanted to show that our iconic bottle can come in all shapes and sizes too," it said on its website.

After just hours of its new advertising campaign, it seems that the vision does not wash with consumers.

The six bottles - which include curvy, slender and pear-shaped - have attracted ridicule.

"Dove is running out of ideas," said women's site Jezebel.

Consumers were quick to weigh in on social media.

"Like, I just want to (use) my body wash, not be reminded that I'm pear-shaped," Ms Julie Daniel tweeted.

So, exactly where did Dove - a long-time darling of the advertising world - go wrong?

For starters, advertising professors said the revamped bottles seem more tongue-in-cheek than a sincere way of celebrating women's bodies.

They noted that there is a difference between feeling comfortable in your body and being unnecessarily prodded to make buying decisions based on your body's shape.

Said Ms Samantha Skey, president of digital media company She Knows Media: "It's a change in tone for Dove, from ads that are almost painfully sincere and earnest, to something that could literally be a Saturday Night Live skit on TV.

"Unless you're trying to mock everything you stand for, I'm not sure why you would do this."

Dove and its parent company, Unilever, did not respond to requests for comment.

The 46-second ad begins with a simple tagline: "Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes."

The camera pans to a factory where machines are churning out a number of bottles.

"It's time now to bring out the pretty people," a man's voice says, "and I double-dare you to find the prettier of the ladies here".

Upbeat music plays as each of the bottles makes its way down an assembly line. "Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes," the ad says again.

Executives at Ogilvy & Mather London, the advertising firm behind the campaign, called it "one of those rare ideas which condenses decades of a brand's legacy in two seconds".

But not everybody agrees.

"Seems like a really stupid idea to remind people how their body shape doesn't fit a culturally ideal body shape," Mr Patrick Vargas, an advertising professor at the University of Illinois, said.

"In the shower, no less. Who would want a consumer product that's shaped like herself?"

Surveys show that shoppers choose soaps and body washes based on factors including scent, quality and affordability.

While packaging plays a role in how a product is perceived, many said Dove's campaign seems to miss the point.

"When you're shopping, you're not going to say: 'Oh, wow, I'm going to buy this one because it has a pear shape just like me,'" said Ms Angeline Close Scheinbaum, an advertising professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

"It doesn't seem like this was a woman's idea. Are we selling high-level ideas here or are we selling a product that's supposed to clean your skin?"

For more than a decade, Dove's "real beauty" campaign has been hailed as an example of socially conscious advertising.

In 2004, after market research found that only 4 per cent of women thought of themselves as "beautiful", Dove began filling its billboards and TV ads with "real" women of all colours, shapes and sizes.

"Dove has done great things and it's really changed advertising," Ms Skey said.

"It took a massive risk to fully pivot its brand towards a social message and it understood and brought to life the impact of advertising on women's and girls' self-esteem."

Another brand - one with a more playful image perhaps - could have pulled off the body-shaped bottles, she added.

"If this were a different brand that hadn't done such beautiful, consistent work, nobody would've cared," she said.

Instead, Dove is left doing damage control.

But experts believe this slip-up is not likely to cause much long-term damage to the brand.

As Ms Skey put it: "You can have a winning strategy only for so long before you push it too far."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'Dove slips up with bottle ad boo-boo'. Print Edition | Subscribe