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About a decade ago, Dove Corporation released a controversial video, which, quite successfully, was able to subliminally banter the modern fashion industry’s notorious inclination of distorting physical complexion for increased product marketing. Perhaps even more impressively, they accomplished this in less time than it takes to re-heat a leftover plate of spaghetti. Enter “Dove: Evolution.” Clocking in at just over a minute in length, this advertisement has achieved widespread appraisal for its unparalleled ability to challenge contemporary plights related to self- esteem (particularly in women) as a result of the constant degrading stimuli being solicited through media outlets. Upon watching this clip myself, I experienced an array of emotions ranging from calm, to apprehension, and even mild bewilderment. As the brief video has no dialogue, the importance of background music is noticeably enforced. At the opening, we’re presented with soothing classical piano chords, as our female subject takes a seat before the camera inside of the contextual production studio. Alarmingly, the tempo begins to quicken; introducing heavy pulses of bass rhythm while simultaneously, bright lights are introduced as a means of hastily diminishing the facial blemishes of the woman. Her initially optimistic demeanor begins to steer toward that of a nerve wracked teenager as the videos speed becomes digitally modified – cosmetologists bustle about, enhancing her hairstyle at an inhuman pace, while a quick series of bright camera shots catches the viewer off guard with a semi-photo sensitive intensity. Never ceasing in its rapid course, the video transitions to a final still-frame of the physically enhanced woman, at which point an Adobe PhotoShop heads-up display is introduced. Following a painstakingly meticulous series of alterations – lip saturation, eye widening, shadow exaggerations, and a neck extension, the camera angle slowly pans outward; causing the viewer to witness a suburban street with our main character’s revised complexion strung upon a billboard. A pair of young women, observe this obstruction in passing prior to the screen’s final fade to black. Subsequently, a credit appears to company, along with a statement concerning warped bodily perceptions. There’s meaning in the text and images here beyond what may be immediately apparent: there’s a rhetorical framework and a message that suggests something more significant and complex than what observers may see on a first look.
Breaking down the advertisement further, it becomes quite apparent that a pathodic appeal to personal emotions is invoked on multiple levels. From the outset, the music puts us at ease, before abruptly shifting to incorporate drums and additional rock-based instruments on a dual track layer. Personally, this technique, coinciding with the changing facial expressions the woman was undergoing, resonated a sense of alarm within me (as if I was about to witness a pending act of brutality). With that said, I think any viewer experiencing similar emotions at this point would have found it appalling how relentlessly the hairdressers went about their business, seemingly void of any compassion. Maybe this was the director’s intention, because a resulting feeling of sympathy for this woman blossomed in my soul. By now, Dove has its audience’s feelings on autopilot, and is able to orchestrate them befittingly for the duration of the editing sequences. I’m inclined to deduce that the photo-shopping was revealed in an attempt to drive the hammer into the nail of what we already knew this entire time – nobody is naturally that attractive! That isn’t to say, though, that the closing act couldn’t be reaming with hints of ethos in addition to the aforementioned rhetoric. I noticed that the billboard hosting the end product pointed to another popular brand in the skin care sector. Do we sense a conspiracy at work amongst the conglomerates? I’m going to circle back to this revelation later, as I believe it’s important to factor into the grand scheme of what’s transpiring.
In continuance to the closing statement I made in the previous paragraph, there are a number of admonishments I’d like to point out to my readers, in order to address the more metaphorical aspects of this video (or what may potentially be interpreted as such). First, something that caught my attention early on, was that the correction of facial blemishes on the subjected woman were given utmost priority to any other items on the touch-up task list. I would infer that on a larger scale, this hints at a hierarchical approach the fashion industry adopts when evaluating beauty. Following that logic, we could conclude that a raw human face warrants correction prior to any makeup, hair, or airbrush modifications conducted by modeling agency experts. Bluntly – they’re judging your primary feature with heightened scrutiny.
Secondly, the overall pace of the advertisement, as I previously mentioned, was extremely swift. Coupled with the background tunes, this probably assisted in delivering the broadest possible range of emotionally triggering stimuli to target audiences in the designated timeframe – undoubtedly a premeditated play. The objective of this ad was essentially to call out the “elephant” in the room, (or in this case, perhaps the one in Hollywood) and in order to do that, Dove knew that relying on a pathos-based approach would prove to be a strategic ally to influence viewers with the desired message.
Finally, the billboard itself was placed in a neighborhood which appeared to be centered on either: working-class citizens, high-school youth, and/or single parents aspiring for more. I gleaned this demographical hypothesis by noting the surrounding environment – composed exclusively of brick apartment complexes, wire fencing, and used cars. Suffice it to say that if this is indeed a factual theory, it would correlate nicely with the idea that Dove wants to spread its agenda like a wildfire throughout the general consumer populace; many of whom may have otherwise remained in blissful ignorance to the proceedings commencing behind closed doors.
Primarily, I fathom that women of Millennial and “X” generations would be the most heavily impacted audience after watching this advertisement. Furthermore, I would ascertain that those impacts have mostly positive connotations, superseding the manipulative (unethical?) bodily practices exposed therein. In support of this claim, I located a research study conducted by Stephanie L Quigg in 2010. The purpose was to identify how a brief ad could mitigate the negative effects imposed on self-esteem through traditional media propaganda. The study consisted of exposing groups of women to one of three variants: a music video padded with standard commercials, the same music video padded with “intervention commercials”, and TV with non-human focused commercials. The outcome determined that seeing the music videos ultimately led to lower levels of self-satisfaction in test subjects, in contrast to the group that didn’t. Interestingly though, in her subsequent book titled “Body Image,” Quiggreveals – “exposure to the intervention commercial counter-acted this effect.” Demonstrating the extent which media portrayals of women are artificially enhanced can mitigate detrimental effects on female appearance satisfaction (135-142).
Earlier, I mentioned I’d be elaborating on the concept of concealed marketing loaded inside of well-intentioned messaging. Taking a tip from Bob Garfield, a journalist reviewing the Ogilvy & Mather Agency, (who represent the film) I quickly uncovered another mind who shares my chilling proposition. Quoting his article specifically, “the bonus is, if they stay with this message come what may, they’ll also turn over lots of whatever it is – apart from the uncomfortable truth – they’re selling (Garfield). That statement really makes me wonder if any act of good nature is pure these days; or is everything simply a clever ruse to boost a bottom line?
To culminate my analysis, I’d like to reiterate to my readers, the importance of executing caution in response to all sources of mainstream advertising, regardless of “implied” positive messages. In this discussion, I’ve brought to light how what was formerly thought to be a feat of goodwill by Dove, might actually constitute as a turncoat for a corrupted motive, depending on the eye of the beholder. It’s crucial that we embrace this somewhat harsher truth going forward. In order to be competent citizens, it’s dire that we examine each aspect of a message. Otherwise, we become vulnerable to intelligently situated reverse psychology governing our buying impulses.
Quigg, Stephanie L., Stephen C. Want. “Highlighting Media Modifications: Can a Television
Commercial Mitigate the Effects of Music Videos on Female Appearance Satisfaction?” Body Image, vol. 8, Elsevier, 2011, pp. 135-42. Science Direct, Elsevier, 2011, doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.11.008.Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
“Tackling Ugly Truth, Dove Effort Evolves Beautifully.” Review of Dove: Evolution, by Bob Garfield, 2006. Advertising Age, revision 2015, Crain Communications, 29 Oct. 2006, www.adage.com/article/ad-review/tackling-ugly-truth-dove-effort-evolves-beautifully/112837/.Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
Unilever Group. “Dove: Evolution.” The Evolution Video: The Use of Photoshop and Airbrushing in the Media, Unilever, 11 Jan. 2016, www.dove.com/uk/dove-self-esteem-project/help-for-parents/media-and-celebrities/the-evolution-video.html.Accessed 6 Mar. 2016.
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