While Benetton wrapped our bodies in colorful sweaters, it was their photographer Oliviero Toscani who provided the garments with the inescapable accessory of accessories: a conscience.
With his billboard-sized United Colors campaign featuring David Kirby, dying from AIDS, an unwashed newly born, umbilical cord still attached, a black stallion covering a white mare, priests kissing nuns, popes kissing imams, an electric chair or the uniform of a fallen Bosnian soldier, bullet holes intact, Toscani apparently tried to shock us into buying a piece of clothing. And while the message hardened from harmony into controversy and provocation, under the guise of ‘raising awareness’, for Benetton all publicity proved good publicity.
Ten years ago, the soap manufacturer, Dove, launched its ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’, aiming to ‘provoke discussion and encourage debate’ regarding ‘real women whose appearances are outside the stereotypical norms of beauty’.
Nice try? But blatantly condescending.
The Campaign for Real Beauty, diffusing photographs of regular women instead of models, taken by the portrait photographer Rankin (who can make a pigman look good)
and underpinned by the Dove Report corporate study, aims to teach us how good we should feel about ourselves. And if we don’t feel good about ourselves? Fix it? With soap?
Dove’s latest ‘activation idea’ comes in the form of a new campaign, set up in Shanghai, San Francisco London, Sao Paulo and Delhi where women are given the choice to enter a building through two adjacent entrances, one labeled ‘Beautiful’, the other ‘Average’.
The result? Most women walk through the ‘Average’ entrance while mothers push their teenage daughters, mostly Average-door candidates themselves, through the ‘Beautiful’ door.
The problem clearly lies not in the result. The problem lies with Dove.
Average vs Beautiful is not an empowering dilemma. It is a supercilious and patronizing project of a cosmetic giant, in the business of beauty, to deceive women into believing they have no sense of self, no sense of self-esteem and are, as always, in need of a knight in shining armour, even if his sword is replaced by a slippery bar of soap.
All praise for Dove’s glib and misogynistic brother Axe.
Never shying away from cheap sexual innuendo and bikini humor, Axe, even in their Make Love Not War episode remains what it is; and even if some find their ads insulting and condescending, which they are, they are also simple, silly and refreshingly un-educational.
Then again, men do not need to be educated. Men need not be pigeonholed and guided and improved. They just need to smell good.
Women on the other hand can use a good