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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There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. John Tomchek 10 May 2017

    Well said – agree with everything you’ve stated. While not part of the “marketing” thread , I wonder how the trade will react to this. There was a time when retailers were demanding the most efficient use of a limited space from a package design/pack out footprint. I imagine having different sizes being packed into a finite space will cause some anxiety…..

  2. Pete Austin 10 May 2017

    Body shape is not an irrelevance. For example some shapes are likely to live longer.

    But body colour is an irrelevance. Yet all these bottles are white. That’s how Dove bottled it.

  3. Audra Torres 10 May 2017

    I’m a woman, too. I agree with a lot stated above. I love the tips for becoming a brand that truly celebrates women. We are powerful change-makers who often make excellent employees, not just consumers. However, I also find the bottle shapes beautiful. Dove should have taken a more subtle approach, and not opened their mouth about it.

  4. Helen Murray 10 May 2017

    Dove needs to be commended for its efforts in promoting body positivity, but as stated, this campaign misses the mark. The bottle shapes are irrelevant – what are consumers supposed to do when their body shape run out? Lie about the way they see themselves?

    All this said, Dove’s well-meaning (if slightly patronising) intentions have led to a fair amount of press and no one can accuse them as being as insensitive as Pepsi’s latest fail.

    I’m going to politely ignore Pete’s comments about certain body shapes living longer, it hardly seems relevant.

  5. The emerging consensus seems to be that Dove’s gesture of challenging the industry’s convention of a uniform standard bottle into different shapes has misfired. Perhaps the only mis-step though is how this initiative was introduced.

    In Dove’s defense, this was meant only to be a limited time, limited edition release. Judging from the strong reactions, bordering on vilifying, it seems it has been interpreted as something far more meaningful.

    Perhaps we are all taking ourselves a little too seriously? Dove included.

    Dove would have done a better job at managing expectation about the different bottles if it had been clearer that it was a playful idea ; one that , for a brief moment, awoke women to an odd, overlooked uniformity taken for granted in the beauty category, one in which the beauty it serves is diverse. It is not a deep insight or truth but Dove seems like it tried to make it one. As other people have noted, packaging that reflects the different shapes and sizes that beauty comes in is not really meaningful.

    For their part, the chattering masses have interpreted this temporary packaging line as an integral part of its real beauty ideology and the reactions have been harsh.

    Do I think the idea was a good one? Not really. It feels like how it was positioned was trying too hard to be more than it is. Still, the outpouring of scorn and vitriol is shocking. Has it generated talk! Mae West epithet about women is apt for brands today: “it is better to be looked over than overlooked.” Far better, though, for a great and storied brand like Dove to avoid unhelpful chatter from the beginning by having a clear narrative that minimizes the risk of grand misinterpretation.

  6. Simon Rines 12 May 2017

    I wonder how Unilever would have made special packages to reflect men’s bodies. Perhaps they should have done a trial exercise on a man’s product to understand how applying the same to women might not be a great idea. It is hard to believe that the company allowed this to happen without pause for thought on how it would obviously backfire regardless of how well-intentioned (assuming it was well-intentioned).

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