It goes without saying that this past week has seen the worst of beauty advertising. By now, you’ve probably watched Dove’s condescending 4-minute “Patches” video and Veet’s series of terribly offensive “Don’t Risk Dudeness” campaign videos (in case you haven’t, they’re embedded below). It also goes without saying that, like me, you’ve probably used Veet wax strips and Dove soap to add more insult to injury. But I digress.
Let’s start with Veet. It’s fair to assume that the 30-second commercials are intended to be funny. A woman, upon realizing she has a bit of stubble after not shaving for an entire day, morphs into a bearded man. The result? Massive Internet backlash, including from yours truly, which resulted in Veet pulling the sexist ads and releasing the following statement on their Facebook account on Wednesday:
“Hi…this is the Veet marketing team in the US. We just wanted to let everyone know, we get it – we’re women too. This idea came from women who told us that at the first hint of stubble, they felt like “dudes.” It was really simple and funny, we thought. To be honest, the 3 of us could really relate to these real-life moments and they made us laugh. Not everyone appreciated our sense of humor. We know that women define femininity in different ways. Veet helps those who choose to stay smooth. Our intention was never, ever, to offend anyone, so we decided to rethink our campaign and remove those clips. Thank you for letting us know how you feel.”
Veet, we get it, too. Hair removal is a sensitive topic, so, it’s tempting to make light of the situation with a few bearded, albeit unfunny, jokes. But when your message veers into sexist, homophobic territory, making irresponsible assumptions about what’s feminine and masculine, and – worse – perpetuating female insecurity about body hair, you’re going to make your target audience angry.
Dove ran into a similar, though much less embarrassing, predicament earlier today when the release of their “Patches” video drew criticism from every corner of the Internet. The ad, which The Cut dubbed “garbage,” is the latest iteration of Dove’s “Real Women” campaign that seeks to instill positive self-image. The commercial goes something like this. Psychologist, Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke, prescribes a patch called RB-X to insecure patients who lament their physical flaws. After a couple weeks of wearing RB-X, the women develop a more positive self-image, feeling more confident and empowered than ever, despite the fact that RB-X is as effective as a sugar pill.
First, it’s painfully obvious that the patch is merely a placebo, as I’m sure it was to the women in the mock clinical trial. That said, it’s hard to watch the video without cringing at how the women are manipulated, and then humiliated after finding out they’ve been duped. And, while it’s certainly admirable that Dove tries to empower women to change the way they see themselves, in the words of brand building director, Jennifer Bremner, there is something disconcerting about commodifying those insecurities for their marketing strategy. Dove’s empowerment campaign feeds on women’s insecurities at the same time as it profits from them. As Jezebel’s Kate Dries says, “It’s definitely true that positive thinking works miracles. But that’s not what this campaign is really about; it’s about teaching women that Dove knows better. Dove is smarter. You should buy Dove because they’re on your side and they can teach you things.”
Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon; beauty ads have a long history of capitalizing on female insecurity to sell products. But when household brands release viral campaigns with condescending, offensive messages, I can’t help but wonder: do they think their audience is dumb? More importantly, what would Peggy Olson do?