Dove firming cream ads: Laying it on thick
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.