Staff Reporters
Apr 18, 2013

Dove's 'Real sketches' film provokes jealousy, controversy

Unilever's Dove brand has struck a nerve yet again with a video in which women confront the gap between their perceptions of their own appearance and the way others see them, through sketches by a forensic artist.

The online video went viral after its release on 14 April, with more than 5.5 million YouTube views so far. In the video, created by Ogilvy Brazil, a former police sketch artist creates drawings of women based on their own descriptions of themselves, then again based on descriptions provided by people who have met the woman in question briefly. He never sees the women himself. The differences between the resulting sketches evoke surprise and introspection.

The film attracted notice within the ad industry as well, and seems a surefire contender for awards. We asked for some reactions and received an enthusiastic assessment from Rob Campbell, head of planning at Wieden+Kennedy in Shanghai. 

“I was jealous of it," Campbell said. "I thought it was unbelievably insightful—something that actually makes someone reconsider who they are. I see it as a great ad for advertising [as an industry] as well as for Dove. It’s more than a beautifully told story. It demonstrates real understanding of people’s inner turmoil; women tend to see their faults but not their good side. In the past, Dove has fallen into the trap of just writing ‘ads’, but this has an insight that resonates. All women [I know who have seen it] found it really powerful. It addresses their insecurities not through fear, but through grace and pace."

The film received wide and generally positive news coverage, although as with previous Dove campaigns, negative reactions could also be found. For example, one industry observer based in Singapore pointed us to this very reasonable blog post, which breaks down the ad and finds that most of the references to beauty refer to white, thin women under 40, and that women of color get very little screen time or mention. The blog also repeats a criticism Dove's efforts often provoke: that in the end, the film still reinforces the importance of physical beauty over everything else. 

Campbell, however, praised the ad's tone and message. "It intrigues, motivates and makes people feel better without being contrived or delusional," he said. "The use of the forensic aspect is intriguing. [Overall] it’s generous and something everyone can relate to. For me it’s worth 10,000 episodes of Oprah. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time."

Other brands in the sector and in other sectors could take lessons from the brand. "Dove has an idea," Campbell said. "It has a point of view. A lesson would be that when you really commit, that comes out, but when you hedge your bets, you don’t get anything anywhere near as powerful."

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