Meng He

The Real Beauty of Cultural Change

"Change is a process which has to be managed" - Kofi Annan

At Codec we help brands understand and unlock culture.

We think this is crucial, as culturally informed brands tend to create better work, generate fame and drive growth. But cultural relevance can be hard to achieve with authenticity, so we’ve decided to start calling out examples of those we think are getting it right. And our client Dove is up next...

Recently, Dove has launched the #ShowUs campaign - a library of images featuring women and non-binary people who do not fit the traditional ideals of female beauty more commonly found in stock photos. The campaign was inspired by recent findings that 70% of women do not feel represented in media and that 90% of stock photos are shot by men. In compiling this library and making it available for use by media and advertisers, royalty-free, Dove is making a tangible step towards addressing this lack of diversity in representation. What is really interesting about this latest effort from Dove is that it manages to be authentic in part because of the foundations Dove has laid in this area through its previous work.




The #ShowUs campaign is not just relevant to the cultural landscape of 2019; it’s also relevant to Dove’s brand identity. It’s an identity that started with the Real Beauty launch 15 years ago in 2004 (feel old yet?).

For those of you not old enough to remember what 2004 was like, here’s a quick throwback. No one used the term ‘body positivity’. No one knew who Ashley Graham was, and Winnie Harlow was 10 years old. There was no representation of genders other than cisgendered men and women in mainstream media. Every single brand and magazine used Photoshop as a matter of course. Female shaving ads never featured any body hair.

Dove is now synonymous with its real beauty identity, the result of working hard to consistently reinforce that identity through various campaigns, the best known of which are Evolution (2006) and Real Beauty Sketches (2013). It’s an identity that has a clear mission statement which allows the brand to lead specific projects (such as the Dove Self-Esteem Project) and, as its voice grows, be its own authentication badge.

In many ways, the #ShowUs campaign matches nicely with the original Real Beauty campaigns that kicked it all off, and displays a natural evolution in the way that Dove is tackling the concept of real beauty. The campaign partner is Girl Gaze, a group which supports female and non-binary creatives. The 2008 Dove Real Women campaign was shot by Annie Liebovitz - whether intentionally or not, Dove was prescient in its championing of the non-male gaze. The campaigns focus on non-models; whereas in 2004 exposure for these non-traditional ideals of beauty was through a single Dove campaign, we now see that being amplified up through its other campaign partner, Getty Images, and its powerful distribution platform.

There will always be cynical criticism of brands’ intentions when they enter cultural conversations; at the very least there is debate about the actual effects of their activities. Being able to identify a cultural movement is only one step; what Dove should actually be admired for is their ability to track and grow with that cultural movement over time, in a way which now feels immutably linked and authentic.

Dove literally lead by example, and now it is paving the way for others to follow by giving them the tools they need to promote real beauty. And that’s how you change culture.

If you enjoyed this post in the Brands in Culture series, make sure to read the Culture eats Marmite for Brexit, and "Viva la Vulva" Bodyform makes us Blush.

Find out more about how your brand can connect with culture in our cultural tribes report. 


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