Advertising is filled with contradictions. One day you can read an Ad Age article on the best advertising of the 21st century and learn that Unilever’s Dove emerges the winner for actually changing consumer notions about beauty with its inspiring Real Beauty campaign.
A few days later in the same magazine you can ogle Charlotte McKinney and her apparently naked bouncing breasts, recruited to metaphorically represent and sell a hormone free burger for – surprise – Carl’s Jr.
It appears that women with wrinkles, imperfect bodies, and no photo shop adjustments can help a beauty brand increase sales by $1.5 billion, launch a trend toward socially conscientious advertising and inspire other marketers — including Nike and Unilever adversary Proctor and Gamble — to follow suit.
They just can’t sell beer or burgers.
So, is Dove a better brand than Carl’s? Should they get credit for being courageous, authentic and genuine? Did they intentionally change an entire generation’s view of beauty? Or simply respond to cultural trends and an increasingly vocal community of women tired of being told how to look beautiful?
According to the Ad Age article on this century’s best advertising to date the campaign launched in Canada, where it was instantly embraced by Dove executives. But it was only after the Toronto-created Evolution video went viral that reluctant US marketers enthusiastically jumped on board.
Dove may deserve all the credit it’s received for the campaign, but this fact suggests that social responsibility was not the motivation, but rather a PR benefit that came after the fact. The soap maker discovered its new definition of beauty would generate a cultural conversation and they went for it.
Is Carl’s Jr. a bad brand, perpetuating stereotypes and deserved of the criticism they’re destined to get from women tired (still) of being portrayed as sex objects?
Carl’s Jr. and its agency 72 and Sunny may be defining beauty using a very different playbook. One that calls for big boobs, (men apparently still love them), firm round butts, full lips and blond hair. But while Dove found out after the fact that they had an idea that would get talked about, my guess is Carl’s Jr. knows that oversized melons and conjoined tomatoes will get talked about, too.
And if news coverage, blog posts, YouTube views and comments are an early indicator, they were right. In an an odd way, that’s the same motivation that drove Dove. Cultural conversation, online buzz, sharing in the social channels.
Does 72 and Sunny know that their new commercial defies all that’s right about Dove? Of course they do. In fact the agency founder and CEO John Boiler was among the judges who praised the Dove campaign.
So while these campaigns have little in common – one is in good taste, one isn’t; one is worthy of enduring; one will get old fast; one will be praised; one will be condemned – they’re more alike than they appear at first glance.
They’re nothing more than advertising seeking attention.