A look into Culture Jamming through Media Literacy
Katie Blair, Melissa Bowers, Amanda Frisbee, and Erica Klein

Wikipedia defines culture jamming as “a mechanism in which an activist or activist group attempts to disrupt or subvert mainstream cultural institutions.” In other words, as a society of consumers, we are looking for avenues to expose the fallacies created by cultural mass media. In 2004, Dove launched a global effort to subvert mainstream definitions of beauty.

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty seeks to “make more women feel beautiful everyday by widening the stereotypical view of beauty.” Dove credits their inspiration to a major global study that reported only two percent of woman around the world would actually describe themselves as beautiful. As most women today would agree, the cry for some jamming was desperately needed. Per request, Dove delivered a campaign that incorporates “real women with real curves,” a self-esteem fund and camp for girls, a video advertisement that debunks the making of a typical model, and other various marketing tools that pertain to changing the conventional view of beauty.

axe-ads11.jpgAlthough these efforts seem well intended, are the Dove folks leaving out critical information to the general public that may counteract their entire campaign?
Unilever, the parent company of Dove, also represents Axe Body Sprays, which arguably promote some of the most sexist and degrading advertisements on the current market. When questioned about their hypocrisy, Unilever representatives commented that they merely appeal to their specific audiences, but as one article notes, “can't they find a way to advertise their body spray to boys without objectifying women in the process?” It seems counterproductive to fight for change through cultural jamming on the one hand, and enhance previously embedded stereotypes through debasing advertisements on the other.

Dove has several film ads including, “Onslaught” and “Under Pressure, ” that speak to the amount of media messages shaping how youth today view of themselves. Funds raised from purchased Dove products go to “self-esteem” workshops hoping to challenge these images and misleading messages. What stops the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty advocates from fighting against their “brother” Axe when they are leading the campaign for fictitious beauty? The Dove campaign thus endorses insincerity through its partnership with Unilever, and one may question whether Unilever even believes in the Dove mission. If that’s the case, does Dove even trust their ability to make a difference or does it all come back to the heart of advertising—selling a product and making money.

If the creators of the
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty know that they touch women around the world by speaking to their insecurities and simultaneously attract them to purchase their products because of their personal connection to the campaign, it is a win-win for Dove. Whether or not anything actually changes doesn’t really matter in the end.

In deconstructing the creation of the Real Beauty campaign, we uncover trends that question the core of cultural jamming. Likewise, as consumers, we should analyze the various aspects of the campaign to understand the purpose of other omissions.

Age & Body Image

The brand’s commitment to the mission starts with using real women, not professional models, of various ages,
shapes and sizes to provoke discussion and debate about today’s typecast beauty images…the campaign invites
women to join in a discussion about beauty and share their views with women around the world.
DOVE Campaign for Real Beauty Mission

In one of Dove’s first premiering ads, six women of different sizes, shapes and ethnicities were shown cutting up and having fun with each other in their underwear claiming “Real women have real curves” as a way to change the consumer’s view of real beauty and women’s view of themselves. Although Dove’s campaign has sparked a phenomenon by recognizing that real beauty doesn’t mean a size two, it neglects to include those women who may naturally be thin. The old saying “the grass is always greener” is even applicable to women who have beautiful, thin bodies and have been reminded of that their entire life. We all need reassurance when it comes to beauty, and although Dove is trying to combat the stereotypical image of beauty by swinging the opposite way, some thought needs to be given to those who may be underrepresented in Dove’s idea of real beauty.

In addition, what the advertisement celebrates in body size, it lacks in age diversity. It seems as though Dove recognized this after the initial launch because some of the following ads have celebrated wrinkles and aging. dove1.jpg
Regardless, the public is still getting a very filtered advertisement that has been through a series of decisions such as choosing a model, shooting film and finally picking a photo to act as the ad.

Even after all of the strides made, the selection process for models still calls Dove’s mission into question. In an article on NY , a craigslist ad seeking Dove models exposes a lot more than meets the eye of the campaign itself. Amy Odell writes, “based on the casting call, the company seems to be looking for real women who are perfect in one sense or another.” What about “MUST HAVE FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATTOOS OR SCARS! Well groomed and clean...Nice Bodies..NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy Not too Athletic” sounds like the picture of real beauty? (Full Advertisement)

Although Dove’s intentions seem pure, their practice leaves some to be desired from the critical perspective.

Ethnicity and Race

Ethnicity and skin color are two aspects that fall short in the representation of global women.

The front page of Dove’s U.S. Campaign for Real Beauty site features photos of women from across the country. But, by an overwhelming number, Caucasian women are the most represented, with 50 featured in the photos. The next highest group is African-American with 11. When you continue to work your way through the website, which, in today’s age is a part of advertising, you find 3 Dove Films . Each one has a different situation and a different opinion of what is “beautiful.” However, each film features a Caucasian as the main character.

Dove’s Blog features a question, “What do all these women have in common?” Again, the answer is they are mostly all Caucasian, except for one woman originally from Iran. Women of various sizes, shapes, ages and skin color are supposed to visit these blogs created by mainly white, thin women. By not featuring a blog with a greater variety of women, they are doing a disservice to many ethnic groups. Why would a size 16 African-American woman want to seek beauty and self-esteem advice from a size 4 white woman?

Dove may try to pride itself on including interviews of woman from the US, Great Britain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Japan for their 2004 global beauty study. But at a closer glance one recognizes the similarities of these overarching average anglo-societies.

dove-models-real-beauty.jpgResulting from their 2004 global beauty study were their first major Campaign for Real Beauty advertisements. In their main advertising picture there are African-Americans and Caucasians, but no women of Asian or seemingly Latin decent. Granted, the original ad was much larger, with a second group of women consisting of a little more ethnic variety. But it was the exclusionary cropped version that was widely used. To Dove’s credit, when you log onto , the faces that you see are African-American and 2 young Asian women. But, why not feature these women in the main advertisement?

NY ran an article which listed a Dove casting call ad on for their most recent campaign coming out in 2011. The ad calls for Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American and Asian women. They omit large ethinic groups such as Middle Eastern and Indian.

In their effort to make all women feel beautiful no matter what size, shape, color or age they are, they are sending a negative message to those ethnic groups that they exclude from their casting calls, ads, blogs and web videos.

Men in the Market

The Real Beauty campaign is not only directed at women alone. Dove kicked off their United States men's campaign during the Super Bowl on February 7, 2010. The advertisement is a montage chased by the music of the Lone Ranger depicting a boy’s journey to becoming a “real” man. They show a string of his life achievements and in the end, he’s gained confidence about who he is. “Now that you’re comfortable with who you are, isn’t it time for comfortable skin? At last, there’s Dove for men.” It is a brilliant campaign leading the average American male to feel confident in his day-to-day achievements and to subsequently support the company that makes him feel that way. It was also a clever marketing plan to air on the Super Bowl where “real” men across the nation could succumb to the subliminal fuzzy feeling. The only drawback is that the advertisements define what a “real” man should be based on heterosexuality and child rearing.

Currently in the United States, Dove is airing the fore-mentioned video and is also promoting the line on their Dove Men+Care web site. The site is simple and displays four separate sections on the home page including: Products, How It Works, Sweepstakes, and Video and TV which shows testimonies of popular baseball players with tidbits about their lives. These four sections satisfy every curiosity that a “real” man could have. It not only informs them of the products available and why they scientifically work with a man’s unique chemistry, but it also offers men a chance to be winners and to see closer inside the lives of winners. The logo is also a clever design with its display of soft, yet manly blue that gives a feeling of first aid and gumption to take action.

Some Dove Men+Care advertisements and products that began in Europe have yet to make it to the United States. Currently, the U.S. markets body wash and bar soaps accompanied by a “Dual Sided Shower Tool” implying that every man needs the right tool to get the job done, even in the shower. The ad also implies that no “real” man takes baths. In the U.K., they also have body spray and anti-perspirant and have created male-based print advertisements reflecting the female-based versions above with average Joes in their tidy-whitey briefs. These advertisements not only display average Joes, but unattractive ones at that. This tactic is not likely to transfer to the United States, as our culture celebrates outer beauty whether “real” or not. This can be seen in the current Real Beauty images where the average females portrayed are of many body types, but still physically attractive.

So what does this mean regarding the effects the campaign has on the public? While promoting “real” beauty, Dove still defines beauty as skin deep. In addition, it defines the heterosexual lifestyle as what makes a man a man. Is it possible that the campaign can then become counterproductive? The argument is likely.

In the Classroom

By incorporating visual texts such as advertisements into the classroom, students are exposed to potentially persuasive texts in a controlled setting, allowing the instructor to facilitate deconstruction and analysis of the message, the authorial intent, the target audience and the techniques used, which will help build the student’s critical thinking skills. Having a classroom discussion regarding these aspects of consumer media not only empowers students to be more conscious consumers of these messages, but also of all messages. The critical thinking skills that they build by deconstructing a message can be taken across the curriculum and into the “real world” as they read, watch and listen.