“At the end of the day if you’re trying to deal with society’s problems … the private sector’s the only way it’s going to happen,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said last week in an interview about government spending. “The governments don’t have the money, the charities are wonderful things, but they give about $1.5 trillion a year. You need multiples of that to do this.” In the private sector, Moynihan concluded, “you got the brains to do it, you got the money to do it, you got the time to do it, you got the commitment to do it.”
Okay, let’s test that notion against one of the longest-running corporate “commitments” going: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign on women’s body image, which has lasted an astonishing 20 years—a millennium in corporate time.
But how much results-minded intellectual integrity does this “Real Beauty” campaign have?
Judging by its Super Bowl ad about girls in sports, not too goddamn much.
First of all: Showing girls tumbling on their tushies in gymnastics and skating and softball—this might have been novel in 1955, when girls played sports in saddle shoes. In the era of Caitlin Clark and Scout Murray, is it still “amusing and moving,” as Fortune Media CEO Alan Murray described it, to simply see girls picking themselves up and dusting themselves off? Not to this Murray, it isn’t.
But the communication failure really begins when the commercial says:
I’ve been around girls sports about as long as Dove has been in the “Real Beauty” business—I’m writing a memoir on the experience—and this is the first I’m hearing that low body confidence causes girls to quit sports. The claim is unsupported in the ad, and also at the website of the Body Confident Sport program that Dove (along with partner Nike) urges us to join, to “keep [girls] in the game.” In fact, the site makes yet another completely unsupported claim: “Sport can be a powerful force in a girl’s life. Yet, around the world, 45% of teenage girls are dropping out of sport—at twice the rate of boys—because of low body confidence.”
Wait, all girls who drop out of sports do so because of low body confidence? (Most of the ones I’ve seen drop out do so because travel sports is insanely oppressive and they find better things to do with their weeknights and weekends, and their parents’ money.)
And girls who remain in sports possess supremely high body confidence? (I won’t even bother singling out gymnastics to put the lie to that specious implication. See here.)
Also: What exactly is Dove’s cause here? Keeping girls in sports so they’ll feel better about their bodies? Or making them feel better about their bodies so they’ll keep playing sports?
“When you say something, make sure you have said it,” Strunk and White advised. “The chances of your having said it are only fair.”
With this commercial, I don’t think Dove said much of anything.
Come to think of it, what have they really said with their whole two-decade campaign? That all women are not super models? Yes, we know. What have they achieved? In 2004, “The success of the campaign was most evident in Dove’s finances,” Strixus reports. “The company increased revenues by 10% in a single year. And nearly 20 years later, the campaign is still running, with plans to expand to the virtual world.”
And girls and women still agonize in epidemic percentages about their bodies and their eating—irrespective of whether they’re playing softball, or not.
And of course that’s the flip side of tying your mighty corporate “brains,” “time” and “commitment” to a real social issue over the long haul.
At some point, people might think you ought to have achieved something, as a result.