One of the more intriguing advertizing initiatives launched by Dove was its Beauty Patch enterprise. For the past decade, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has used female empowerment as an advertising tactic, an apparently altruistic strategy to entice customers with the concept that women are more beautiful than they think they are. The Beauty Patch crusade is one in which six women were asked by body image psychologist Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke to wear Dove’s RB-X ‘beauty patch’ for 12 hours a day over the course of two weeks. During that period, the women were invited to keep a daily video diary.

The controversy stemmed from the fact that the ‘patch’ was a fake, a placebo. And yet, 5 of the 6 women experienced strong shifts in their self-perspective of their own beauty during the two weeks. Critics say Unilever, Dove’s parent company, was manipulative in this campaign and that the ad makes women look gullible and helpless; some even opined the 6 women were actors, something Unilever officials categorically denied. For her part, Dr. Kearney-Cooke felt it was a worthwhile ‘experiment.’ What is fascinating here is the diversity of perspectives that manifested. One perspective is that the ad was manipulative – the 6 women were ‘tricked.’ An other point of view is that the ad was tremendously successful; over 2 days, some 25 million viewers worldwide (in 65 different countries) looked at the video on some form of social media. Respected detractors labelled the whole thing ‘garbage,’ or even reviled it as Dove’s most “bullshit ad yet.” Interestingly, none of the 6 women expressed anger or concern when the nature of the seemingly useless patch was revealed after 2 weeks; instead, some laughed, others cried. Steve Miles, Unilever’s senior VP-Dove, declared, “All the women who participated in the social experiment feel that it was an extremely positive experience that has empowered them to be far more confident about their beauty, inside and out.”

All of these different ways of perceiving the campaign are true, that is, they are all perspectives. Was any harm done? Were any promises made? In what way is this any different than being in a control group for a scientific experiment designed to test some new intervention or drug? Was the patch a placebo? And what if it were a placebo – its impact was such that at least 5 of the women found a way to feel better about themselves. Somehow, over the 2 weeks some motivational potential was activated by each woman; their own self-talk, self-persuasion, self-belief helped each of them to look at her Self differently! Imagine…if a worth-less piece of adhesive can trigger improved feelings of self-worth, what power must be available when motivation is harnessed, reinforced, and ‘patched‘ into and by each one of us.