A new movement in advertising has literally changed our feelings about ads. These really aren’t ads in the traditional sense, but filmed studies and demonstrations of the social, cultural, and psychological mindset of consumers regarding issues the brand had previously ignored but very much inform their customer’s emotional purchase decisions.

These communications don’t sell, not overtly, but are part of the holistic effort moneyed brands have courageously included in their marketing mix. Legacy brands like Dove, or Pantene can no longer revitalize their sales via NEW and IMPROVED. Creating newer products is costly and a crap shoot. These new communication efforts help us understand ourselves. They make the brand the customer’s trusted advisor, friend, and confident in real, authentic ways.Rosie the RiveterIT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

The prevailing definition of brand is not as a slogan or an ad, but an enduring relationship with the consumer. But when you judge that relationship on the bar chart of ROI, it’s clear that it’s mostly a one-way relationship: Sales.

The brands that engaged in these new communications read the world. They know that a positively self-aware customer is an empowered customer. And they positioned themselves at the center of that empowerment. They realized that their ROI could be influenced by their ROH-Return on Humanity. Smart? I say brilliant.

Instead of saying, “Buy this, you’ll feel better” they showed why you don’t you already feel good. They demonstrated that your lack of self-esteem in some areas might not be about you, but caused by the culture you live in. And they empower you to know how and what to change in that flawed consumerist culture.

These empowering ads connect on a deeper level and speak to a human truth.  They create “actionable empowerment” that instills a sense of confidence that takes you beyond your limitations. All this from a soap company, or a sneaker manufacturer.

Longer form communications from Dove, Pantene or like Nike’s “Throw Like a Girl” reveal our innermost vulnerabilities. By providing a mirror into our subconscious selves, they give us the information to deal with these vulnerabilities. This is pure MANNA from corporate heaven.

DOVE 1.0

But it takes guts. As a PhD in social psychology, a USC professor of marketing, agency owner and a strident feminist, I was taken aback at the reactions I got from my students when presenting the launch ads from the Dove Real Beauty Campaign of 2007.

This was the first campaign to celebrate the many shapes of women’s bodies: tall, average, plus size (a designation that should be relegated to the scrap heap of micro-aggressive words) over-weight, all races and hairstyles. They weren’t perfect beauties. They were our friends, our sisters, our co-workers, real people. It was an inclusive campaign, eye-catching in that it wasn’t pushing perfectly shaped or suspiciously anorexic models that are the cultural definition of beauty that 95% of the culture can’t live up to. Or should want to.


And guess what? They hated them. They didn’t want to look at real people. They didn’t want to see plus-size models proudly posing in their underwear. They didn’t want to see…themselves. But here is where Dove’s efforts and wisdom must be applauded: they knew this. And they did it anyway. They decided that it was more important to have this conversation than not. They knew the issues of self-esteem visited on little girls who will never look like a Victoria’s Secret model, with or without angel wings. They said, “Look, we’ve been selling soap for years. Let’s do something more important. Lets clean up the culture that makes girls anorexic, or overeaters, insecure, who never feel worthy. Let’s have that conversation and let’s be at the center of it.”

What my students were reacting to was the SHOCK OF THE NEW. But to change behavior, to change cultural paradigms, you have to be willing to shock, to move people past their comfort zone, to open up a fold in the brain that makes them amenable to new facts, observations, that creates a new awareness, and that gives them the tools of empowerment AND changes behavior.

So the next time you see a coupon for Dove, it doesn’t just represent cents off on a bar of soap, it reminds you that you are worthy. Nice.

The opportunity to create a better culture exists. Will corporate America pave the way, or continue to pander to the flaws? Do we have the courage of the Doves?

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