Beauty and the (Media) Beast

By Layla Revis-Vice-President, 360 Digital Influence at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

We’ve all heard that ‘sex sells,’ but we rarely think twice about it. In fact, it’s one tired cliché we’ve actually grown up believing. Unfortunately, for marketers and consumers worldwide…
We’ve been lied to.

And while there’s no denying that Britney Spears sold records in great part due to eroticized expressions of virginity, research has shown that the higher sex content in an advertisement, the lower the brand name recall. In fact, a study conducted by Steadman found that brand-name recall was significantly lower in sexual advertisements than non-sexual advertisements. Still, we continue to tell our clients and our kids that same played out line.

The real question is this: what does this mean when it comes to perceptions of beauty and the body for women and men today?

In 2004, with the help of Ogilvy, Dove launched its famous ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ after conducting a global study of beauty. The study confirmed that the definition of beauty had become impossible to attain. Dove found that only 2 % of women described themselves as beautiful and, when it came to body image and weight, women from all countries were unsatisfied with themselves. However, an overwhelming 81% strongly agreed that “the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve” and 75 % wish the media did a better job portraying the diversity of women’s physical attractiveness, including size, shape, and age. With women making up roughly 50% of the world’s population and influencing or buying 80% of products sold, companies ignoring what these women say and feel can be a costly mistake.
Dove’s response was to develop “Evolution,” a viral video with unprecedented success; viewed by more than 300 million people globally. Dove and Ogilvy won countless awards, including two Grand Prix Cannes Advertising Awards and a Grand EFFIE, which honors the most significant achievement in marketing communications. In the first six months of the campaign, sales of Dove’s firming products increased 700% in Europe and the United States. In the first year, global sales surpassed $1 billion.