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August 05, 2005

Dove firming cream ads: Laying it on thick

Creamsjpg_1

Dovegirls

If you're not familiar with Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" check out Adland's outstanding coverage--The Caffeine Goddess has outdone herself.

With some exceptions, the controversy over the "Real Beauty" campaign has sidestepped an absolutely critical fact, namely, that all so-called "firming creams" are pure snake oil.

Gender politics aside, the Dove ads are a very clever way of marketing a completely worthless product.

"Firming cream" is a euphemism for topical cellulite remedies. You'd have to be a complete pinhead to believe in spot reduction--through diet, exercise, or any other means short of liposuction. Nevertheless, a surprising number of otherwise well-informed women are still bamboozled by the pseudoscience of cellulite reduction.

Dove's cream contains seaweed extract and elastin peptides. Neither these nor any other "active" ingredient has ever been shown to reduce cellulite in any double-blind, placebo controlled trial. For a review of the research on the causes and "treatments" of cellulite, see: Avram M. Cosmet Laser Ther. 2004;6:181–185. (.pdf) The author is a proponent of laser cellulite treatments, which are no great shakes either, but at least he's conversant with the relevant literature.

The Quackbuster also has a good rundown on bogus seaweed-containing cellulite products. Steven Barrett of Quackwatch provides another thorough review of fraudulent cellulite remedies. His piece is from 2000, but this isn't a therapeutic category characterized by rapid technological advances. Efficacy has been holding steady at "placebo" since at least the Industrial Revolution.

Firming cream is a "problem" product. It's not like soap, which everyone needs, nor is it a pure appearance enhancer like nail polish. Invariably, cellulite is presented as the pathology for which the cream is presented as the solution. In fact, cellulite is normal and neither healthy nor unhealthy. Over 85% of post pubescent women have some dimpled fat. Moreover, cellulite isn't a sign of overweight or any other health problem.

People will only buy firming creams if they can be convinced that (a) cellulite is a blight, and (b) the cream will fix it. Western Civilization has more or less taken care of (a). However, (b) remains a challenge, especially for a product that can't make any truthful efficacy claims.

The traditional solution is to photograph your patent medicine with a conventionally flawless model and hope that the consumer will associate her beauty with your nostrum. Unfortunately for butt cream copywriters, the mystique of the super-model is at odds with the myth of the miracle cellulite cure. Fantasy has it that models are naturally glamorous creatures who don't need cellulite cures. So, a consumer with that background assumption is less likely to infer that the product is effective against cellulite.

Every ad for a cosmetic has to make some point about "Before" and "After." Of course, Dove can't do real "Before" and "After" comparisons because their product doesn't work. So, the copywriters at Oglivy & Mather, Chicago came up with a brilliant solution: "After" shots that imply a "Before." It's no accident that the Dove ads feature lovely, healthy, radiant, but basically "normal"-looking women. That's to make it easy to imagine that these women had cellulite and that the product relieved them of it. In fact, these fit healthy women are probably just genetically gifted. Some supermodels have cellulite, some normal women don't. It's all in your choice of grandparents.

Forget fat, or lackthereof. Size acceptance is great, but not when it's conjoined with deception. Fraud is a feminist issue. The bottom line: if you don't know enough about your own body to make informed choices, other people will exploit your ignorance.

Oilkingsmgif_1

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» Or maybe it was Bolero that ruined us from Pandagon
Alley Rat has an eye-opening post today about the topic du jour now that everyone is tangling over those silly Dove ads. (Let's not forget they are selling snake oil, of course. By no means am I defending their sleazy... [Read More]

» Or maybe it was Bolero that ruined us from Pandagon
Alley Rat has an eye-opening post today about the topic du jour now that everyone is tangling over those silly Dove ads. (Let's not forget they are selling snake oil, of course. By no means am I defending their sleazy... [Read More]

» American Beauty from Preemptive Karma
Vanity is many a woman's achilles heel. It can cause us otherwise very smart, very capable women to turn themselves inside out doing stupid things. I've had my own issues with vanity. I've been known to buy things that I should know aren't going to fix... [Read More]

» On that Dove Ad Campaign and Unruly Fat from Alas, a Blog
As a fat activist, I'm struck by how much the Dove ads - and also Nike's recent bandwagoning ads - are less about body acceptance than about setting a boundary between acceptable and unacceptable weight. [Read More]

» Remember those Dove ads featuring "real women" hav from Internal Monologue
Those ads always bugged the shit out of me. I remember when the BART stations were full of them. First of all, there's just the akwardness of seeing all these women standing around in their underwear. Normally, models in ads are "high gloss" enough t... [Read More]

Comments

Majikthise: You are brilliant, and this is an unabashed fan letter.

You got to the bottom of this; you exposed the cellulitic underbelly; you know snake oil when you see it.

On my short list of blogs to check daily, you are at the top.

Keep it coming

Same here, only with some sophisticated, offstandish reservations, so you won't think I'm a fawning sycophant.

I'm going to put a different spin on it and say that snake oil definitively cured my bromodrosis, but that doesn't mean I think you suck.

Nicely played.

I thought 'standoffish' was a bit too chummy. That's the ticket.

Since the cosmetics companies will be pitching snake oil anyway, I'm just glad to see some positive depictions of women who don't look like prepubescent boys with mastitis.

I dunno if you read Jill's take on this at Feministe but I liked it. It's snake oil--definitely. But I guess what's interesting is that what they're selling completely beside the point for a lot of people, to the point that I thought they were just selling soap for like a week after this broke into the newspapers as a Big Story. Yeah, it completely changed my opinion when I realized that it wasn't that they were selling soap, but snake oil. But Jill's larger point is that regardless of Dove's nefarious intentions, the fact that these ads really causes a shitstorm does say something about our culture and that's interesting.

Richard Roeper tried to excuse his retarded remarks by pointing out it's ass cream, as if that somehow made his outrageous demand that he never be exposed to pictures of women that aren't starved and then made over by an airbrusher to hide the symptoms of their anorexia. But, reading his flagrant whine-a-thon, I realized that while this is ass cream and that's stupid, that doesn't mean that the upswelling of anger from both men and women at those who criticized the ads for having "fat" women isn't authentic and shouldn't be recognized as a positive thing. People are extremely angry about how our desires, sex lives, and relationships have been poisoned by the endless onslaught of images of women that don't exist in nature held up as the only acceptable way for men to get aroused.

Dove's ad campaign is sleazy, but I have to admit, I like the fact that it loosened a lot of tongues on this issue. In fact, one unpredictable thing that's come out from this is that people like you are going the next step and discussing how retarded it is that the cosmetic companies defined cellulite as a problem. It's like they decided fingernails are a problem and to start airbrushing them off models. What I want is that this gets out of their control and that the hard questions being asked extend beyond just this flavor of the month thing. Of course, I'm almost certainly asking too much.

Dove's ad campaign is sleazy, but I have to admit

It's really sleazy. The US slogan is "As tested on real curves" -- the UK slogan is "We didn't cheat on the figures." The whole point of the Dove ad campaign is to say, "Look how honest we're being -- unlike everyone else, we don't promise unrealistic results. What you see is what you get."

Unilever (who own Dove) are exploiting the fact that cosmetics ads and the like almost invariably feature models with figures that are unattainable for most women. By featuring more "realistic"-looking models, the Dove ads are trying to con consumers into thinking that their advertising is more honest than the ads for, say, TrimSPA.

As ad campaigns go, it's brilliant. But still evil.

That's just cynical. This isn't some advertising ploy: it's a campaign for something, which means it is a selfless and humanitarian effort. Unilever probably doesn't even care if it makes a profit, as long as it gets out its important message: Extremely thin women aren't the only ones that can be beautiful; average and even very, very slightly overweight women can be beautiful, too. In a way.

Inspiring is what it.

True, Thad. I guess the thing is that if people look at the ads and get a discussion going that leaves the ads in the dust and don't buy the product and in fact get involved in discussions that make them realize it's snake oil, well then, they haven't "won". That's why commenters on these ads call them "risky", because encouraging people to voice their anger at the advertising industry is not something that marketers can control very easily.

They do have before and after. The airbrushing, that is.

LINDSAY, SO EXCELLENT.

THE CRITICAL FACT TO ME ABOUT THIS WHOLE TOPIC IS THAT DESIRE FOR SEX AND MARRIAGE AND REPRODUCTION ARE CENTRAL HUMAN MOTIVATIONS.
MOST WOMEN WANT TO LOOK ATTRACTIVE TO ATTRACT ATTENTION FROM MEN TO GAIN MALE COMPANY LEADING TO RELATIONSHIP AND MARRIAGE AND ULTIMATELY CHILDREN. THE WHOLE MAD PHENOMENON ARISES FROM THE BIOLOGICAL REPRODUCTIVE URGE THAT MERCILESSLY DRIVES THE RACE TO THE MARRIAGE FINISH LINE-- BEFORE THE BIOLOGICAL CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT , THE HORSES TURN BACK INTO MICE, THE COACH BACK INTO A PUMPKIN, AND YOU ARE LEFT ON THE PALACE STEPS WITHOUT A PRINCE, AND WITH EGGS TOO OLD TO MAKE BABIES.
MEN REMAIN POTENT OFTEN INTO THEIR 60'S OR EVEN 70'S BUT
FLAB & GREY KEEPS YOUNG WOMEN AWAY AND SO THE CLOCK
TICKS FOR MEN TOO.
THESE ARE THE DEEPEST ROOTS OF THE IMMENSE WORLDWIDE
GROOMING INDUSTRY WHICH PREYS LUCRATIVELY UPON THE ROMANTIC IMAGINATION OF BOTH SEXES. . CELLULITE CREAM IS A TINY FRACTION OF THIS INDUSTRY, WHICH ALSO ENCOMPASSES FASHION AND FITNESS.
REPRODUCTIVE URGE FELT AS DESIRE FOR CLOSENESS AND SEX IS CENTRAL--SENTIMENT TO THE CONTRARY NOTWITHSTANDING.
I HAVE BEEN TOLD BY WOMEN THAT WOMEN REALLY DRESS TO IMPRESS EACH OTHER. YEAH...I 'M SURE THAT IF YOU ARE SINGLE AND WANTING TO COUPLE, LOOKING GOOD TO YOUR FRIENDS IS SO SATISFYING IT REALLY MAKES UP FOR NOT HAVING HAD A DATE IN SIX MONTHS.
THE ARTIST PICASSO SAID THAT A MAIN MOTIVATION FOR HIS YOUTHFUL ENTERPRIZE WAS HIS DESIRE TO IMPRESS WOMEN---AND I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT THIS IS TRUE OF MOST MEN. THE MINDSET CAN BE EXPRESSED SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
IN ADDITION TO BEING GOOD LOOKING WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR, AND INNER STRENGTH, I HAVE A GREAT CAREER, I AM AMBITIOUS, DRIVE A FINE CAR- I CAN PROVIDE MONEY AND STATUS--AND A STABLE FOUNDATION FOR A FAMILY......
THIS IS THE MALE VERSION OF THE SIREN SONG, THE MALE'S
ATTRACTIVE COLORFUL PLUMAGE.
I AM LOVELY, FERTILE, SEDUCTIVE INTELLIGENT, NURTURING , I
WILL BE A GREAT MOM AND OUR NEST WILL BE SO FINE-- SINGS
THE WOMAN.
NEVER MIND THAT THEY BOTH HAVE LUCRATIVE CAREERS AND SHE
IS VERY INDEPENDENT AND A JUDO EXPERT WHO DOES CARPENTRY ON THE SIDE--IT WON'T STOP AGE OLD STEREOTYPES COMING INTO PLAY WHEN SERIOUS BABY-IN-YOUR-FUTURE COUPLING IS A PRIORITY.
ROMANTIC WANT ADS REVEAL THE PRIORITIES--HOW MANY MEN SPECIFY THAT THEY WANT FINANCIAL OR EMOTIONAL STABILITY IN A WOMAN? --PRETTY RARE. AND HOW MANY WOMEN SPECIFY THAT THEY WANT SOMEONE WHO IS LOVELY TO LOOK AT?--- ALSO RARE.
STEREOTYPES AND STEREOTYPICAL BEHAVIORS RULE IN THE ROMANTIC REPRODUCTIVE REALM. BUT IS IT NATURE OR NURTURE?
I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT THE REASON WOMEN STILL, STILL,
MOST OFTEN EXPECT A MAN TO COURT THEM , AND TO MAKE THE FIRST MOVE AND SO ON----TO BE , IN EFFECT THE PURSUER TO THE WOMAN'S COME HITHER, THE BEE TO THE HONEY-- IS THAT WOMEN HAVE BEEN SOCIALIZED, ACULTURATED, TO BE THIS WAY SUCH THAT, FOR INSTANCE, EYE CONTACT AND PERHAPS A FURTIVE SMILE IS ALL A WOMAN AT A PARTY NEED SHOW OR SHOULD SHOW TO THAT MAN ACROSS THE ROOM WHO WARMS HER IMAGINATION . WHY? BECAUSE THAT IS THE SOCIAL NORM?
BUT ANTHROPOLIGICAL RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT THE ROLES OF MAN AS PURSUER AND WOMAN AS ATTRACTOR, AS WELL AS OTHER BEHAVIORS, ARE COMMON TO COURTING WORLDWIDE AND SO, SURELY, THE ORIGINS MUST BE BIOLOGICAL AS WELL AS CULTURAL .
I REMEMBER A BIRD DOCUMENTARY IN WHICH DOZENS OF SHINY OBJECTS GATHERED AND DISPLAYED CAREFULLY UPON THE GROUND BY AN AFRICAN BIRD, IMPRESSED SO HIS DESIRED MATE THAT THE DISPLAYS OF RIVAL SUITORS WERE AS DUST TO HER (APPARENTLY ANYWAY-- WHO KNOWS WHAT A BIRD REALLY THINKS). THEIR EXCHANGE MUST HAVE BEEN SOMETHING LIKE:
"HEY BABE---- I GOT A HOT GATHERING CAREER AND I'M AMBITIOUS WITH A GREAT SENSE OF WARBLE ,A PERFECT FOUNDATION FOR A STABLE FAMILY, AND MY FEATHERS RARELY RUFFLE, JUST PERFECT FOR A SMART AND LOVELY COME HITHER KIND OF WOMAN LIKE YOU-"--HE SAYS. SHE REPLIES, "I LIKE YOUR STYLE, I'M SMART AND SLEEK AND I LAY THE BEST EGG EVER--", AND THE DOCUMENTARY FAST FORWARDS PAST THE WEDDING STRAIGHT TO THE NEST FEATHERING AND EGG FERTILIZING DENOUEMENT.
THERE IS SOMETHING OF THE TRUTH IN THE IDEA OF A CROSS SPECIES ETERNAL FEMININE AND MASCULINE. IN HUMANS THE ETERNAL URGE TO MATE IS A RELENTLESS, MERCILESS EVEN, DRIVING FORCE, WHICH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RATIONALITY.
AND SO I THINK PEOPLE TRYING TO FIND THE ONE CAN BE FORGIVEN IF THEY GO OVER THE EDGE A BIT AND SUCCUMB TO A PRODUCT'S SOPHISTICATED APPEAL TO THEIR EVER HOPEFUL ROMANTIC IMAGINATIONS AND THEY CONVINCE THEMSELVES THAT A CREAM ON THE BUTT OR A DYE IN THE MOUSTACHE WILL DO SOMETHING MAGICAL
AND-- PERHAPS THEN, THEY THINK, THEY MIGHT FINALLY MEET THAT BIRD WITH THE BRILLIANT PLUMAGE OR THE SHAPELY TAIL FEATHER WHO WILL FULFILL THE DESIRE TO BUILD THAT NEST AND HEAR THE FLUTTER OF TINY WINGS.

IF THAT IS YOUR PHOTO AT THE TOP OF THE WEB PAGE--YOW--YOU
ARE SERIOUSLY BEAUTIFUL

Why is it that all caps are so hard to read?

He wants his font to imply non-stop rock-hardness is my guess. I have no doubt whatsoever that Lindsay is swooning.

Roeper's on crack when he complains about that ad. I think the blonde is particularly sexy 'n cute.

Thank you! I was wondering why in heck they had these huge images of "real women" all over my subway stop, but, instead of accepting them, they are [supposedly] gleefully using "firming cream." I also feel bad for the models in the ads because people are scrawling truly awful words all over their stomachs. Bad deal all around.

Victor, all caps is hard to read because it doesn't give information from the shapes of the words the way small letters do.

BIG LETTERS CAN BE JUST AS BEAUTIFUL AS SMALL LETTERS EVEN THOUGH THEIR SHAPES ARE DIFFERENT. SMASH THE OPPRESSIVE TEXTUAL DIMORPHISM SYSTEM!

"Victor, all caps is hard to read because it doesn't give information from the shapes of the words the way small letters do."

Yeah, yeah, but you read Victor's post, all of it, didn't you? By forcing one to pay more attention while reading his post, Victor has increased the reader's comprehension of his ideas. Clever.

Nice! Just brilliant!

Here is a washington post article that suggests that the firming cream could work (a little).

I agree that this stuff is still a bad idea to use, but it isn't really a fraud.

I'm really sorry about the trackback spam - I don't know why that happened. (The post does indeed link to this post, but just one trackback would have been fine.) Sorry!

Are these gender anxieties economically driven? That is, the people who can most conform to the "absolute 10 on the scale of manly [or feminine] gender" (Jesus' General - satirical) are very wealthy or the tools of the wealthy. CEOs, star athletes, owners of Hummers and McMansions, Ah-nuld; top models and actresses, trophy wives with hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in plastic surgery and diet doctors (and perhaps rehab, when they self-medicate or become addicted to diet pills).

Who wants all that? Many, many insecure people, lower down on the socio-economic scale. And the industries (media, fashion, beauty, etc.) cater to all this; so do their flacks.

I'm thinking of Robin Givhan, the Washington Post fashion columnist (!) who manages to delete fun and sexuality (and street) entirely from fashion and turn it into an Ayn Randish Objectivist fetish. Rand is said to have worn a big gold dollar sign as jewelry; I wouldn't be surprised if Givhan does the same. Givhan, predictably, didn't like the Dove soap ad women, and defended the "ectomorphic" models, saying that they're paid mucho $ to look that way. She forgot to add: kids, don't try this at home.

The only thing being pretty ever got me was F@#KED. That's what my mama used to tell me.

The beauty industries main goal is to make women and girls feel inadequate enough to buy their products. Dove is trying to use reverse psychology but they still end up saying that a woman isn't pretty enough unless that use Dove.

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