Has beauty advertising really moved on?
A view from Paul Domenet

Has beauty advertising really moved on?

Dove's 'Campaign for real beauty' campaign may have been a game changer, but the beauty industry hasn't really changed much from those questionable ads of the 1970s.

"How old is Campaign?"

"Twenty-eight? Twenty-nine?"

[Campaign is seen climbing out of the swimming pool looking pretty damn good.]

"Well, here are her grown-up children. Would you believe it? Campaign is 50."

That’s because Campaign uses Palmolive "to keep that schoolgirl complexion". 

This kind of ad was par for the course back when Campaign was a peachy-skinned infant and the beauty industry framed women in a disturbingly voyeuristic and judgmental light.

But how much has this industry really moved on? "Discover your skincare ritual," says the celebrity promoting yet another product that promises to hold back the signs of ageing.

Only this ad is from 2017 and the celebrity is 19-year-old Kendall Jenner, who hasn’t even started ageing but already wants to stop.

The Kardashians speak to an increasingly insecure and immature target market that needs to be Insta ready from the moment they open their eyes in the morning and tot up the overnight "likes".

It had all looked so promising in 2004, when Dove launched its "Campaign for real beauty" campaign. From the 1960s until then, the beauty industry had been on a journey towards enlightenment.

In 1978, onlookers observed a young woman and debated: "Is she or isn’t she?" A high court judge? A chief executive? A prime minister? Not in the 1970s. The issue was whether or not she was using Harmony hairspray to keep her hair in place.

The beauty industry obsessed over the effect of its products on any passing pedestrian and one whiff of Impulse body spray sent complete strangers dashing to the nearest florist. Women were there to be fragrant, gawped at and objectified. Advertising simply promised a higher level and frequency of objectification.

The first stirrings of an awareness of 1970s feminism manifested itself in the "Because you’re worth it" campaign for L’Oréal. Here was a brand suggesting that you should buy a product for yourself and not just to attract a mate. "It’s not about men, it’s about ourselves. It’s not for you that we do our hair," according to Ilon Specht of McCann Erickson, who was prompted to write the line not by a great piece of strategy but by anger.

Then there was the evolutionary dilemma of "Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline". Is it natural? Or is it snake oil? Where’s Darwin when you need him?

Lad culture dominated in the early 1990s. Eva Herzigová’s "Hello boys" set the tone and everyone else followed, with Kate Moss taking up the baton for the beauty industry in her steamy ads for Calvin Klein’s Obsession and CK One perfumes.

Women being empowered to do what they want and "flaunt it"? More like self-inflicted objectification.

And then we came to Dove. I have lost count of the times I have been in meetings with beauty clients who say they "want a Dove". I, too, remember the first time I saw one of the posters on the Underground. It wasn’t the physical appearance of the women that was so impactful, it was their essence. It felt like something had changed.

Unfortunately, Dove proved to be a fleeting moment of progress.

Tresemmé’s latest campaign claims to "put in the work so you can work it" and it could have been done 30 years ago. It has simply substituted a supermodel with a beauty blogger (Rosie Bea), as if that would make it new and modern. Meanwhile, L’Oréal’s Clarisonic has identified an astonishing 15 signs of ageing with which to frighten consumers.

Can we blame social media and the pursuit of unattainable perfection? The need to be beautiful whenever, wherever? Even 73-year-old Helen Mirren is still a slave to the "Because you’re worth it" ethos.

For whatever reason, from Boots’ "Here come the girls" through Protein World’s "Beach body ready" to Jenner’s 19-year-old need for immortality, advertising has sadly done what the beauty industry can’t – it has turned back time. 

Paul Domenet is communications creative director and partner at Free The Birds