Dove & The Bifurcation of Authenticity

This morning, accusations flew, complete with outright denials that the Dove Real Beauty campaign was a sham. Pascal Dangin of New York’s Box Studios, a “retoucher” staked claim that he had enhanced the images passed on to consumers as authentic…

The conversations with my friends in media today circled around the question of “What would you do if you were Dove assuming the accusations aren’t true?”

Well, first I’d meet with representatives from my agency to ensure that there may not have been any misunderstanding: no doctoring means no doctoring. I would be on the phone with Annie Leibovitz and ultimately, Dangin to get their side of the story. Was it a misquote? Was he taken out of context? I’d make sure I understood specifically what was said, why it was said and whether there was enough validity in the controversial story to cause real damage to my brand.

Going forward with the assumption that the ads didn’t violate the original direction of no doctoring, I’d immediately go to the blogs, forums and message boards and create a tone map to determine where the groundswell of negative sentiment resided. I’d also seek out the heaviest influencers’ that were creating negative reactive posts specific to the topic and formally explain to them, as an employee of Dove, that the accusations were false.

I would go so far as to offer proof if need be via side-by-side comparative prints of the original photos vs. those used in the advertisements. I would upload all original photography to Flickr and open access to anyone interested in inspecting them.

As an extreme, I’d even consider recreating the Dove campaign with real people from the blogosphere, just to take them through the process of photos to print advertisements.

Ultimately though, I wonder if all of this truly matters. The brand objective for Dove was to expand the perception of what beauty is, past the pre-canned ideas dictated to us by the very corporations who use supermodels to sell every day products to consumers.

Was Dove transparent in the ads? Well I don’t believe they thinned any of the women, nor do I believe they lightened hair, or removed wrinkles. They may have optimized photos for OOH, or print, but I think that’s expected. Besides, I’m not sure how you could be any more transparent than to be filmed in your underwear. 😉

Was Dove authentic? Even if the ads were retouched, I’d say yes. There was certainly authenticity associated with the photographs. Authenticity in the form of an image, conjures feelings of self identification – namely sympathy and/or empathy. I believe the Dove ads were more than adequate in achieving both.

While combing blogs and comments on the topic, I stumbled upon one that struck me as best to sum up the issues at hand. A woman named Aletta had commented on the current.com blog:

It’s no different than food photography. You wouldn’t advertise what an apple looks like when it has brown spots, nicks or blemishes either right?

Why is anyone suprised that the images were photoshopped?

The point of the campaign was that the women had more realistic proportions, not that the photos weren’t retouched in some way.

In a world where MySpace photos are taken at multiple angles to avoid exposing a double chin, I don’t think I could’ve said it any better.

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