In the last ten years, Dove has become an expert at creating viral marketing campaigns. The brand has traded in on everything from women’s frustration with what most advertisers deem a “real body” to the disparity between how women view themselves and how they are viewed by the rest of the world. These campaigns have understandably struck a nerve with countless women because of the undeniable reality that we live in a society that relentlessly promotes unattainable goals for women with regards to their bodies, their careers, their parenting abilities, their romantic aspirations, and their lives. And yet, ultimately, these campaigns are simplistic and designed to make you do one thing: Buy Dove products. In other words, don’t ever forget for one minute what Dove and all other brands working tirelessly to make you believe that they’re on your side are after—your loyalty and your money.
Knowing all this can make it easy enough to just roll our eyes and ignore it when a brand does something like tweet about how “on fleek” their product is or makes it seem like they were there for you during 9/11 or whatever; it’s brands’ job to manipulate you and trade in on your sentimentality and humanness. And they do it so well precisely because brands are not sentimental or human—and that includes the people who work for them! Just kidding. A job’s a job, I guess.
Anyway: Dove. Turns out, there’s a new Dove campaign making the rounds, and it goes by the hashtag #SpeakBeautiful. It seems that, according to Dove, over 5 million negative tweets were written by women in 2014, and Dove wants to change that by encouraging women to speak in a nicer manner. Which, first: Ohmigod, five million negative tweets! That’s so many! Except, you know, it’s not! Because it turns out that there’s an estimated 500 million tweets sent out total every day, which would make 5 million a year of any one kind of tweet equal statistically zero percent of all the tweets sent out in 2014.
But also, beyond that, there’s something very off-putting about Dove asking women to “speak beautiful” on Twitter. Maybe it’s because women suffer all sorts of abuse on that medium and are so frequently the targets of hateful and threatening speech, which is often inadequately addressed by Twitter and thus continues unabated? Yeah, maybe that’s it. I understand that the Dove campaign launched on Oscar night and is intended to put an end to bitchy comments about how women look, and that’s fine! It really is. Just like that Coca-Cola campaign meant to turn negative thoughts into happy memes was ok in theory. Only, you know, besides the fact that ad campaigns are never going to stop the Internet’s real trolls, there’s something that’s more than a little disturbing about the idea that brands are trying so blatantly to change the public discourse—and that they so frequently succeed.
And while the Coke campaign was bad enough, this Dove one is much worse: Women should feel no responsibility to be the only ones bringing civility into public discourse, and yet that onus is placed on them again and again. Perhaps the days when women were told not to curse lest they appear unladylike are gone (or, you know, perhaps not), but the fact is that no man will ever be told to “speak beautiful.” Instead, he will be praised for being honest, blunt, and forthright. So perhaps Dove should stick to figuring out ways that women can keep their skin soft, rather than softening their words.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen