Ruth Mortimer: Dove has bottled it with its body-shaped packaging

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign has improved advertising’s attitude to realistic images of women, but its ‘personalised’ bottles in the shape of your body are gimmicky and counter-productive.

Dove body bottles

I really love being a woman. Aside from the joy of periods and childbirth, you can look forward to a lifetime of brands patronising you.

The latest female-friendly gimmick comes from Dove. The Unilever-owned brand has often been seen as a champion for women, with its ‘Real Beauty’ initiative pushing the use of more realistic models in advertising. But for this campaign, the brand has launched a range of body wash bottles resembling “one-of-a-kind” body shapes, aiming to make you your “very own limited edition”.

I have a couple of problems with this aside from the cringeworthy language. First, the campaign supposes that I want to see my body shape reflected in packaging. I find even the concept confusing. There are areas where I do want products to reflect my body shape – clothing, for example. But body wash packaging? This isn’t a personalised sculpture; it’s something I buy at the supermarket based on product efficacy and scent.

I am not convinced that shaping bottles like bodies is rewarding enough. Buying body wash is not a status purchase. It’s not an identity purchase.

I like that a brand wants to celebrate women. But here’s a useful guide to doing so. Employ lots of them. Demand your agencies and suppliers are diverse. Celebrate women for their actual achievements, not just their appearance. Align yourself with causes that benefit women. Continue to show diverse people with diverse figures in your advertising. I’ve yet to meet the woman honoured and celebrated by plastic bottles on supermarket shelves.

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Also, finding my fat bum on the shelf doesn’t really motivate me that much to purchase. It puts me off. It feels embarrassing. Will the checkout person say: “Oh, you went for that one? I would have seen you as that rounder one.” The only thing I want to think about when buying moisturiser is which bottle offers me more product volume and value for money. I don’t want to make a judgement which calls up my eating habits, psychology and self-worth when picking a bottle off the shelf. I want picking body wash to be neurosis-free.

Second, it implies a level of personalisation which is impossible in a small number of bottle types. The brand claims it wants to present one-of-a-kind body shapes, but this is never going to happen. There are so many varieties of body shape that one body wash range can never be personalised effectively. It would require Tesco and Sainsbury’s to turn over half their shelves to Dove to show even a subset of true body shapes.

This doesn’t mean that mass personalisation always has to be a bad thing. Coca-Cola is an example of a brand that did this well with its named bottles. There was an element of competition and discovery in finding your own name on a bottle and groaning that there were so many bottles called ‘Richard’ on the shelf. But I’m not sure I can even recognise my body shape in the Dove range.

‘Real Beauty’ campaign’s strengths

Dove is a brand that actually puts more thought into appealing to women than lots of products. Dove has seen enormous success with its Real Beauty campaign. My criticism comes from irritation at the execution, not the core corporate intent.

Personally, I have never been a fan of the Real Beauty drive because I want to believe that my moisturiser will give me the thighs of Kate Moss. Sometimes I think the last thing I want to hear is that I’ll just be better moisturised in the leg department. But that aside, Real Beauty was not the usual ‘female-friendly’ campaign. It didn’t use pink or gimmicks, it just presented a more truthful version of the product benefits.

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Changing culture through image is something Dove does well. Dove recently worked with Mindshare Denmark on a campaign called ‘Image Hack’. The companies collaborated with photographers to flood Shutterstock with realistic and non-stereotypical depictions of women. On International Women’s Day, the companies then encouraged 42 other agencies and advertisers such as Ford to embrace the new imagery.

So why is this latest body wash campaign a misfire for the brand? It doesn’t seek to change culture. It puts body shape as the focus of it, rather than an irrelevance to the true value of women.

I am not convinced that shaping bottles like bodies is rewarding enough to mean something to consumers. Buying body wash is not a status purchase. It’s not an identity purchase. If Dove wants to show how it understands women, it needs to stick with ways it can positively impact our visual culture. Everything else just feels like bottling it.

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