How Dove got slammedIf you missed it, Dove put out a set of ‘limited edition body washes’ (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write) with six different, kinda-woman-shaped bottles. It was done by Ogilvy London, the UK branch of the agency behind their massively successful ‘Real Women, Real Beauty’ campaign. “Beauty comes in a million different shapes and sizes,” says the Dove website, “Our six exclusive bottle designs celebrate this diversity: just like women, we wanted to show that our iconic bottle can come in all shapes and sizes, too.” Ogilvy London’s creative director Andre Laurentino told Ad Age, “The Real Beauty Bottles is one of those rare ideas which condenses decades of a brand’s legacy in two seconds.” Here’s the video: When this one went live, the Internet (that billion-headed beast) paused for a few seconds to decide what it thought. And gave it a massive thumbs down. I’m never sure how these things start. (It would be cool to study the outbreak of an Internet scourging). Maybe it starts with some negative tweets, like these: Then a few bloggers and journalists weigh in: Aimee Lutkin on Jezebel: (Love that metatag: “Badvertising”) Then more tweets. Then the story becomes about the bad tweets. Callie Byrnes on Thought Catalog (with some headline borrowing): And Jennifer Calfas on Fortune: Then even the tweets are about the bad tweets:
What happened here?With Pepsi’s Jennergate, it was clear where the brand got it wrong. With the Dove bottles, I really don’t get it. The criticism seems mostly based on two objections:
- Why would anyone buy a body wash to match their body type? This is weird because Dove never said people should try to match their own body type when they buy. Just that bottles (like women) can come in all shapes and sizes.
- I don’t need no soap brand to tell me I’m okay. This one hurts, because it’s true: we really don’t need brands helping us with our self-esteem. (Of course, this objection would kill a zillion ads).
Are there any real lessons here?It’s hard to find anything more helpful than “Don’t cross any invisible lines.” Because the Internet distorts everything. It turns tiny cute things into mega-hits (the most retweeted tweet of all time is a teenager asking Wendy’s for free chicken nuggets). And creates real celebrities out of people whose only talent is a desperate need for fame. And can drive people into deep hiding for making the mistake of making their mistakes near someone with a camera phone. And can turn a brand into an overnight hit… or take away all that mojo on a whim.
Be very afraidI like corporation-bashing as much as the next guy (actually slightly more than the next guy but not as much as the guy next to the next guy) – but this trend scares me. Public beatings like this will make all marketers a lot more timid. They’ll inevitably lead to the premature death of tens of thousands of good ideas (and, to be fair, hundreds of thousands of bad ones). If the price of trying something different is this high, we’ll all aim low. To steer straight for the middle of the road. Where it’s safe from the collective ‘Tsks’ of the Internet. Because no one ever slams yet another soap ad about smoother, softer skin.
The real lessonMaybe the real lesson here is that brands shouldn’t overstep their boundaries in their search for ‘deeper meaning’. Maybe people are starting to get sick of brands pretending to have deep values and beliefs when really they’re just… products with a sprinkling of connotation on top. If so, we’re entering an interesting time. Because, for the last decade or so, every brand has been chasing its ‘Why’. Looking beneath the obvious performance benefits of a product (‘Cleans your face without drying it’) to discover something way more important (‘Celebrates women of all shapes, sizes and colours’). Simon Sinek told us that no one buys what you do, they buy why you do it. That’s what made Nike Nike and Apple Apple. But maybe a new generation of consumers is starting to get tired of that game. To see right through it. Maybe they don’t want their beer to teach them about tolerance. Or their soft drink to heal international conflicts. Or some other beer to pretend it cares about veterans. Maybe people have figured out that beers can’t care. Only people can care. And if those people are on brand teams, then that caring may be hiding another agenda (um: beer sales?). If that’s what’s happening, brand stewards have some choices to make: Think hard about attaching your brand to things that matter way more than your brand ever could. If you do decide to go that route: walk the talk. Paying for one child-of-a-veteran’s college education, then spending 90 times more to broadcast that fact to the world (as Bud just did with Adam Driver), may not work any more. (It did for them… whew). In short: know your place. Recognise that the real role you play in people’s lives might just be cleaning their faces or satisfying their thirsts. And that maybe that’s all people want from you anyway.
UPDATE Turns out Martina Olbertova (a friend) wrote about this in much more semiotic detail in her LinkedIn post ‘On Dove & Meaning: What Exactly Went Wrong Here? A Cultural Analysis‘). She cites ‘an acute lack of empathy for the female soul’ as a primary reason for their failure.