Remember back in the old days when, if a company wanted to advertise soap, they just advertised soap?

“Gets you clean!” they might say.

Or “Lathers up nicely!”

Then they’d show a picture of the soap, tell you the price, and everyone went on with their lives.

Except now there are a million different types of soap and consumers are more cynical than ever, so companies don’t get anywhere with that sort of talk any more.

Now brands want to become our friends. That way, when they tell us how great their product is, we don’t ignore them like they’re the crazy guy who talks to himself on the bus, but instead actually stop and listen, because we trust them.

This is an entirely creepy concept. I mean, I barely see my actual friends, let alone have time to devote to commercial ones. But it’s something that most of us have, consciously or not, bought into. People have a consuming passion for their Apple products. Google is everybody’s best friend. We all love the Old Spice guy.

The problem is real friends generally don’t try to sell you stuff. If your best mate kept ringing to tell you how good Pizza Hut was, you might stop taking his calls, or at least ask him if he needs medical attention. Brands know this, which is why they try to create content that speaks to us in different ways, to shill their products more subtly.

Which brings me back to soap. And deodorant, and moisturiser, and everything else made by beauty company Dove.

Dove has undergone a very successful transformation into a “brand friend” over the years, mostly thanks to its viral videos which get millions of views.

According to Dove, only four per cent of women consider themselves beautiful and this is a giant problem because, as everybody knows, being beautiful is hugely important, probably more important than any other human characteristic, especially if you’re a woman because, honestly, what else do women need to worry about?

So in their latest video they go about fixing this by taking two doors, labelling one “average” and the other “beautiful”, and making women choose which to walk through to sentimental music. A foolproof test, I think you’ll agree.

All the women who choose “average” are looked at pityingly and told how they’re wrong, because everyone is beautiful if you just get over your own self-doubt and find the confidence within to nurture your true inner blah, blah, blah, something.

I’ll ignore the huge ironic elephant in the room, which is the fact that Dove manufactures things like anti-ageing creams and whitening deodorants (because god forbid your armpits should have dark patches), the sales of which rely upon the very vulnerability they claim to want women to be free of.

What really irks me about the new Dove Choose Beauty ad is the patronising assumption that admitting you look average is the Worst Thing Ever, and indicative of a self-esteem problem.

I’m average looking. Most of the world is, that’s why only a tiny percentage of people get to make money wearing clothes and appearing on movie screens.

A woman admitting she’s average doesn’t necessarily mean she feels worthless and needs validation. “Beautiful” isn’t the only other thing she can be. What about funny? Or smart? Or kind? Or strong? Funnily enough, it is possible to be happy even if you don’t look like Miranda Kerr.

Dove says it wants all women to feel beautiful.

I say sod beautiful.

I say it’s fine — and actually, statistically more normal — to look average.

Choose beauty? I say choose another soap.


First published in The Advertiser, April 11, 2015.