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Reversing the damage selfie culture is doing to Gen Z

The challenge with purpose-led marketing, particularly where a position on social issues is put front and centre, is that it can lack both credibility and relevance. Brands often have little right to speak into the situation, given a disconnect with what they actually sell or how they behave, and what they say can be dismissed by people in the real world, given a disconnect with their own concerns and what they are actually buying.

As one of the first brands to embark on the purpose journey, and trailblazer for Unilever's Sustainable Living plan, Dove has always walked this line well. From day one, its celebration of real, natural beauty, and taking a stand against the things which undermine this, has been firmly anchored in the simplicity of its product and engaged fully with the (emotional) pressures women feel to conform to the unrealistic, unachievable beauty norm that our media and culture imposes on them.

Dove Celebrate Real Beauty
Dove Celebrate Real Beauty

There have been missteps along the way, perhaps most notably when, thru lack of proper thought and careless editing I'm sure, they seemed to suggest people of colour should aspire to be white. But even here, the controversy this generated only served to reinforce how strongly people have embraced Dove's position on beauty representation (and the disappointment felt at seeing them fall short).

Because Dove has (in the main) been true to its stated purpose, consistently delivering on this in a way that has been both credible and relevant. One of the more high profile examples of this came in 2006, when the brand took aim at the use of Photoshop in fashion and beauty photography, and the unhelpfully idealised vision this presented to women.

Fifteen years on though, where are we now? We all know the sad truth: nothing much has changed. In fact it's got worse. Back then, this fake beauty was at least kept at arms length. There was the buffer of 'other'. Pressurising and damaging yes: being told you are somehow not good enough will always undermine self-esteem. But with the small crumb of comfort in the recognition that this was the remit of supermodels not real women.

In 2021 though, what was once confined to the pages of fashion magazines is now the day to day reality of social media. And where once it was the unachievable supermodel women where asked to aspire to (if never actually match), now the pressure is up close and personal. And hitting much younger.

Dove Reverse Selfie
Dove Reverse Selfie

Our world has become one where everyone is a creator, with powerful tools just an app click away. And where the on-line persona your present seems as, if not more important than the real you. After all, what is real in a virtual world. This has switched fake beauty from an aspiration that is 'out there', to a very real competition you are part of. It's a fight for likes and comments with people who are just like you (or pretend to be)...and may even be your actual friends. This is the curse of the selfie, and it's far more damaging than any fashion photography ever was.

A clear spiritual successor to their 2006 anti-photoshopping campaign, Dove's new film (at the top of this post) takes aim at selfie culture and the tools underpinning it. Speaking to the young girls in the selfie front line, and to their parents, its rewind from fake to real is powerful stuff indeed. Something a quick glance at comments on YouTube confirms.

Dove doesn't just talk the talk either (important as that talk is). They offer up a whole load of resources as well, for parents, teachers, youth leaders and the young people themselves. All of which is to be applauded.

So if you're looking for an example of purpose-led marketing that isn't just disconnected window dressing or empty virtue signalling, but is instead something anchored in the lives of real people and the products they buy, then Dove remains a best practice go-to.

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