The Dove Ad The World Really Needs
Maybe because it was Ad Week here in New York, the Dove commercial has been on my mind recently. You know the one, the Real Beauty Sketches video in which an FBI forensics artist makes sketches of women's faces based on their own descriptions and then strangers' descriptions. The strangers' descriptions result in more conventionally beautiful sketches, and the ad concludes "You are more beautiful than you think."
In May, the video, produced for Dove by the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, became the most watched ad of all time — it's currently at 56 million views.
That is very impressive, but Dove doesn't seem to realize it's sitting on top of an even bigger viral hit in the making. If that was advertising gold, we're talking platinum. Join me in this vision, please.
One of the delightful contradictions in today's advertising landscape, which is already often terrible to women, is the fact that Dove, a brand marketed on the premise that all women are beautiful just the way they are, belongs to Unilever, the company that also owns Axe. Axe is a line of male hygiene products sold through ads that mainly represent women as sub-people.
If you've never seen an Axe ad (most are produced by the advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty), God bless you in your innocence, which is about to be over. In the interest of selling bro-tastic shower gel, Axe ads have for years attempted to make dudes feel understood and validated by encouraging them to see women as disembodied breasts, high-maintenance busybodies, easily replaced conquests or "skanks" in need of washing away. Actually, you have to watch the disembodied breasts one:
I propose a video in which Unilever admits, finally, that it's paying for advertising that communicates two completely different ideas about women — one that they are valuable (at least as long as they value being beautiful, which is also problematic, but we'll get to that) and one that they need to be rinsed off after you use them for sex.
Let's have a face off, Dove ladies versus Axe dudes. In fact, let's have an intervention.
A group of Axe dudes — the actors from each of its choicest ads, including the man who is just a walking head of hair — are led into a therapist's office, where four or five women from the Dove ad are waiting for them. You know what, Rebel Wilson should be there, too. Four or five of the Dove ladies and Rebel Wilson. For maximum authenticity, let's get the creators of Intervention to consult on this part. After 14 seasons, they finally have some time on their hands.
And then the women give it to the Axe dudes. "Bro culture isn't doing anyone any favors," one says. "Maxim magazine was sold, and no one even cared," another ads. "How would you feel to be one of hundreds on that obnoxious revolving door?" Then Rebel asks, "Don't you think you should get a real job?"
The Axe dudes are contrite. "Dude, I never saw it that way," says the disembodied head of hair.
"I feel dirty," says Mr. Scrub-Away-the-Skank, because he can't come up with a response unrelated to the virgin/whore paradigm.
Flash to a montage of the Axe dudes in "rehab" — volunteering at the Lower East Side Girls Club or a similar organization, watching MissRepresentation on repeat, taking a women's studies class at a reputable university.
Then we see everybody back together, but this time in the sunlit loft that was the setting of the Dove ad. And now for a twist! The Axe dudes get their say, too. In a Sharks vs. Jets-like moment where everyone is standing in formation among the hanging sketches, the Axe dudes break into song and say something along the lines of, "In rehab we spent many hours in the feminist blogosphere (shout out to Dodai — love you girl!) and learned that our ads are seriously insensitive. Let's be honest, we need a new schtick. But we also want to know when YOU, Dove, are you going to stop assuming that the only way to reach women en masse involves tinkly music and the assumption, as Kate Fridkis and Erin Keane pointed out, that women's self-worth does and should revolve around whether they feel beautiful. Beauty is a construct, guys, often a white one. And did no one find it problematic that the sketch artist was a man?"
(Someone would need to figure out exactly how to score that.)
The Dove women would be quasi impressed, but point out what the Axe version of the Dove ad would have looked like, which would have been a room full of sketches of cleavage. The women would express this in their own musical number, and Rebel Wilson would engage in some typically GIF-able break dancing, finally trilling, "No more mobile mammaries, pleeeeeasse."
Then everyone would stop, panting, and Rebel Wilson would say, "I feel good about this." And the Axe dudes would say, "Us too." And then as they exited the loft, Mr. Scrub-Away-the-Skank would ask for Rebel's number.
Someone in Adland, make my dream come true.