Monday, August 01, 2005

Beauty gets "real"

"Washing machines with 'silver-nano' technology".
"Shampoos with 'fruitamins'"
"Water with 300% more oxygen".

Buy our products - it's good for your health, home and general well-being. But what about our sanity?

In the general clutter produced by here's-a-great-product-for-you advertising, consumer connect is hard to achieve. Loyalty is elusive - price wars and special offers the only way open to brand managers desperate to move stocks.

But very occassionally, brand managers manage to touch a raw nerve. To make a statement that's relevant to the brand and yet resonates with the audience at a deeper, even primeval level.

That's what Dove appears to have done by featuring 'real' women - not superthin supermodels - in a new ad campaign for a cellulite-control cream. The women appeared - wearing just their bras, underwears and big smiles - on giant billboards, buses and trains in Chicago and other major US markets.

"Our mission is to make more women feel beautiful every day by broadening the definition of beauty," said Philippe Harousseau, Dove's marketing director. The company cleverly launched a 'Campaign for Real Beauty' which addresses the issue of basic female self-esteem .

"How long have we been chasing someone else's idea of beauty?", it asks. Adding, "Real women have real curves'.

This brilliant creative stemmed out of a global study of 3200 women in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Britain and America.

"The Real Truth About Beauty" study noted that, "Just 2% of the women in the study considered themselves beautiful. Only 5% feel comfortable describing themselves as pretty and 9% feel comfortable describing themselves as attractive".

Research also showed women were concerned models in beauty adverts did not actually use the products they were promoting. 68% percent agreed that "the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve."

The hidden message
Just like coffee shops aren't so much about coffee as about being a warm and welcoming meeting place, cosmetics are more about boosting one's self-esteem than actually making you thinner or whiter.

And that is what this campaign does. As the gently ironic taglines point out : "Let's face it, firming the thighs of a size 2 supermodel is no challenge." Instead of making you stare at someone thin (who makes you feel fat), you look at someone more real and feel "normal". Whether the cream actually reduces cellulite in 6 weeks or not, it's made you feel good!

Secondly, the campaign has great PR value. Le's face it, the launch of yet another cosmetic lotion is rarely newsworthy. Which is why Indian PR executives who keep hounding editors like me to feature XYZ company's 'oil control cream' have so much trouble getting a mention.

The Dove campaign made a story which didn't require hard-sell because it had a 'more than a cellulite cream' halo around it. Not only did their 'real models' get covered as "news" in repectable newspapers, it made it to the "Today Show" and "CNN".

What's more, when Chicago Sun Times columnist Richard Roeper called the Dove women 'chunky' he was bombarded with hate mail. Marketer's dream come true.. to have the public come out and defend your campaign! was a bit more cyncial as it asked: "Real beauty" - or really smart marketing? Well, of course it's the latter and yes, the models featured are not so overweight as to be completely unattractive. But I still think it's a breakthrough.

Because in the age of FTV and Miss India, it touches a chord even with women here, on the opposite end of the globe.

The desi story
Would the results of a "real beauty" study throw up equally abysmal results in India? Well, among the new generation of young women - I think yes. Not just in metros, the 'Miss India effect' has percolated 'modern ideas of beauty' down to the smallest of towns.

However, I do believe that girls from small town India would be a little hung up on 'face' and 'hair' and less on figure as regards definition of beauty. Fairness and long black hair would still be more desirable than losing a few extra pounds to achieve one's ideal weight.

While here in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore a girl may not be goti-chitti or have ghane reshmi baal. But if she can slip into a slinky dress or size 26 jeans, she will not feel 'average'. She will feel - and even be regarded as - attractive.

The older generation of Indian women believed: "shaadi ke baad shareer bhaari ho hi jaata hai". That's why they always left several inches of 'margin' in the blouses made along with wedding sarees! Well, that attitude is slowly changing.

Women in their 40s and 50s are also becoming a little more weight conscious- although more for 'health' reasons than beauty!

So is India ready for a 'real beauty' campaign? I think so, although for a product less exotic than a 'thigh firming' lotion. We don't even know we have a cellulite problem.

And of course, it would be unreal to expect 'real women' willing to be featured in their bras and undies on billboards! That too, smiling!!


  1. There is definitely a fairness obsession in India, atleast in Delhi.If you look at the matrimonial advertisements , most of them ask for fair girls , I saw one which said - Wanted a milky fair girl.....

  2. hi rashmi,
    I've been reading your blog since quite a while,really cool stuff :))
    I' ve blogrolled your page on my blog :))
    cheers n have a nice day
    p.s Recall ke liye Me was JBC Mithibai many years ago & currently wid MyZus :))

  3. I don't even know what cellulite is. Yes I agree, the guys cash in by making you feel good about yourself. Fido Dido was convieved with this idea in mind: you are cool as you are.

    Anyway, this is conversation between Gopal, a small town Indian and Sunil, an NRI, after seeing women "featured in their bras and undies on billboards".

    "Lot advertisements, brother. Everywhere."
    "Mostly women in them."
    "Mostly with no clothes, brother."
    "Makes it more attractive."
    "What do their fathers say?"

    This is from the Inscrutable Americans.

    Still is grumbling about the loss of his anonymousity.

  4. Hi Rashmi,
    I disagree with some of this because though this new campaign does manage to stand out due to the use of different models from the skinny ones we are so used to seeing till now, that is all this is.

    Once the novelty is over, I fear, the target audience, the non-supermodel females might begin to percieve the product as suitable for the kind of models shown, ergo, it is not helpful in improving their standards to the naomi, kate, claudia, cindy levels.

    I can see Dove pulling the plug on this campaign pretty soon or facing a dramatic drop in sales.

    Time will tell.

  5. Hi Rashmi,
    My late comment on this post. While Dove's campaign may have good intentions, they get it all wrong.

    I have a post on this at my blog--Real Beauty...Not

  6. Whatever it is disguised as. all this is is a new way and a new 'reason' for showing soft porn.

  7. Anonymous11:45 AM

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  9. My advice in order to get rid of cellulite is that you should use some cellulite solution correlated with fitness and a balanced diet.


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