Dove’s “Onslaught:” Media Messages Pummel Girls’ Self Esteem

dove-redhead.jpg“Here it comes” alright. I smell another Cannes win here for the Dove team’s short film/viral video efforts. “Onslaught,” a Dove film, conveys the pulsating “in your face” rapid-fire bombardment of beauty cues and media sexualization sent every nanosecond to little kids.

Onslaught may do for girls what the “Evolution” spot did for women…deconstruct the mindset of body image and objectification. Reinforce the artificial ideals behind the superficial nip-n-tuck cues. Or it could just plain tick people offWhich, actually, is not a bad thing either, if it works to raise awareness. (Two Knives for example, has got a wicked sharp blade and cuts right through the muck in razor-smooth precision, I highly recommend you take a peek at this very worthy parental deconstruction)

The problem with being IN this business is you see TOO much…Truth be told, I actually had plans to save this piece for a bigger deconstruction with the Dove team, and wanted to ping the folks at Ogilvy in the U.K. for full feedback (Toronto? U.K.–Nicole? Care to comment, please?) I love the research/white paper on Dove’s global study, “Beyond stereotypes: rebuilding the foundation of beauty beliefs” here.

I guess I’m thinking if Dove can ask people to share their views, and even attempt to enrage the masses with some motivational “umpf,” by conveying a “Knock it off, people, look what we’re doin’ to the children!” mindset…then hey, so much the better…After all, that’s been my mantra for quite some time…

After all, much like Dove’s forums where teens (and all ages) come forth themselves, their latest film is powerful, raw, and jarring.

It gives us all a snapshot into the appearance-based fixations that are tearing apart kids’ sense of self-worth and turning them into media tartlets with sass and ‘tude via ‘age compression toy tactics’ and marketing ploys gone awry.

Not sure I can be fully objective, as I’ve always had a considerable amount of Dove love, and continue to tamp down my awareness and reporting of their parent company, Unilever’s holdings in Fair and Lovely bleaching agents to uphold a skin tone ideal. (ahem, hardly a “Campaign for Real Beauty”…)

Still, Dove’s execution is so dang good and their message is so “spot on” that I should probably save myself some film costs and cut a partnership deal to use this clip for our trailer showing the trickle down impact on K-5 playgrounds in our documentary, Body Blitz: Media Shaping Youth!

I guess it all boils down to a net gain issue…To gauge the impact, I did what I usually do…ran it past some kids themselves. Some said it was ‘weird,’ and acted ‘nonplussed’ (have you ever noticed how much tweens are vehement that marketing doesn’t impact them as they adjust their latest brandware, cell charms, and duds?) Some acted like it was ‘same ol’ same ol’ and ho-hum flatlined the response. Others squirmed a bit as if they could relate but didn’t want to ‘fess up.

Unlike the softness of Dove’s True Colors campaign, hinting at the insecurities being placed within children, the harsh MTV-style jackhammer approach over-shadowed any subtlety in the spot.

My own tween didn’t even notice the doe-eyed redhead’s transformation from smiling natural cutie to Jon Benet-pageant ‘tude parading across the street with ruby lips, curled locks and a scowl…

It took her an entire replay and a purposeful click of the pause button after the somber dissolve, “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does” to even see it. Hmn…’de-sensitized’ perhaps?

Maybe she was still reeling from the imagery. I’d say I was, but that would be a bald-face lie.

I live, eat and breathe this stuff every day.

Question…Will this hit the viral video charts with the same “you’ve gotta see this” YouTube zeal as millions of other ‘forward to a friend’ Dove hits? Or have too many people peeked behind the curtain of Oz to gain a cynical bent?

What do you think? Has Dove jumped the shark? Is this hypocrisy or authenticity?

A social change model or crafty subliminal soap sales?

Genuine concern over children’s media messaging or brilliant branding?

Or is it all irrelevant if it makes an impact and it works?

In one sense, viewing this Dove spot as a simple, strident stance against sexploitation of kids and the over-shadowing of childhood, seems perfect, whether it’s boys’ body dysmorphia issues or girls’ inadequacy impairments with teen plastic surgery on the rise.

If it makes people ‘get it’ that our worth on the planet as human beings is being gauged by writhing body parts of pristine flesh, with ever-younger ‘ideals’ that border on pedophilia, bravo! But the minute I veer into unchartered waters of gimmickry and manipulation at my own expense I turn into a media curmudgeon, feeling like I’m being duped.

As many VC cohorts and wise supporters have cautioned me time and again, “You can’t become an ideologue, steadfast in your convictions without the sponsorship alliances and funding to roll out on a mass scale…Applaud the people doing good work, rail on the vapid values you despise, and stay true to yourself at all costs.”

Using those benchmarks, I’d have to say, yep, fine. Okay. You got me. Dove’s done it again.

Are you applauding? I am…

p.s. Feel free to sound off to the contrary…That’s what makes the blogosphere an intellectual haven of challenge…

Other Shaping Youth Dove Features

Dove’s Surreal Beauty: Time-Lapsed Must See TV

A Snapshot From the Teen Camera Lens: 48 Hours of Dove Blogging

Dove Love, “Daughters” and Industry Backlash

Dove Ditches Superbowl, Media Tips from Dads & Daughters

“See Jane Speak:” Gender, Race, & Kids Media



  1. Amy, your points are excellent. If this affects one child or one parent to take one action against the beauty industry, then yes, it is all worth it. Absolutely.

    I just don’t think the campaign will work that way. As you know, the way these ads get to kids is so subtle, they may recognize it today while watching the video, but what happens tomorrow and the next day and the next day? As for the parents: I was exhausted watching the “onslaught” of ads — how can I possible counteract that? Maybe it’s just me, but I really felt more helpless than hopeful after watching it. I wonder if other parents may have felt the same way.

    As always, wonderful insights. I appreciate your views.

  2. I know what you mean by the ‘onslaught’ being daunting and depressing with the potential to send a collective parental shrug of inactive apathy due to the “overwhelm” factor, and “what can we do?” mode to curb the idiocy sans censorship…

    Resist the helplessness. It spawns defeat…Instead, join in the knowledge that we’re reaching a tipping point when people WITHIN the industry (and within our consortium!) are letting out a rebel yell to battle for the hearts and minds of our children.

    We CAN turn this tanker around…it just takes some serious firepower (and bucks, like the ones clearly spent on this Dove blitz) to do it!

    No question we need to get some ethics, accountability and forethought into the mix…and if Dove’s “Onslaught” campaign jars any parents WITHIN the industry to take the blinders off, then maybe I have a chance to recruit them into OUR consortium to “Be the change.” (As Hugo would say at!)

    With risk comes reward…(As you can imagine, I’m not exactly popular with the AdRants folks and colleagues that choose to ignore the impact of what’s being produced just to take their paycheck and go home.) But we’re just getting STARTED with recruiting from within to do some serious counter-marketing work, so we need voices like yours to remain strident, heartfelt and hopeful.

    Don’t give up, parents. We can slay the dragon (Or at least poke it back in its cave a bit) by shifting to more positive media messaging…’Rome wasn’t built in a day’ yadayada…;-)

  3. Here’s Ad Age’s article today titled “Unilever Unleashes Onslaught on Beauty Industry”

    “Pulling back the curtain
    The video, like “Evolution,” comes from WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Toronto. And it directly supports the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, which has set a goal to reach 5 million girls globally with programs by 2010. To that end, Unilever this year also will enlist yet-unnamed celebrities to appear at events to reveal how stylists, makeup artists, photographers and computer technicians produce their onscreen and on-page looks.

    The success of “Evolution,” which has gotten more than 12 million views on YouTube alone since its launch last year and likely more than 15 million overall, has helped “Onslaught” generate numerous blog mentions of it as a follow-up to the original.”

    Consider this one of them…Good luck, Dove…I’d like to see those 5 million girls get a healthy boost of self-esteem by raising awareness…but to “Two Knives” point above, Onslaught showcases the ‘problem’ without offering much of a solution, other than telling us as parents to once again deconstruct the messages to make our kids media literate from the get go.

    Done deal here, folks. But it still doesn’t help the plethora of body images in the shame game that makes kids feel inadequate in the first place. Turn down the media volume (in tenor/tone, content/crud)—producers need to be accountable for the ‘results’ of what’s being put out there. Period.

  4. 2X3X7 Blog comments from a year ago hold up today as intelligent critical thinking skills on the Fair & Lovely Unilever controversy as well…Fascinating thought here in terms of the vilification of brands and pop culture taboos:

    “ I’m the snakehead eating the tail of the opposite side, I palindrome I.” –-They Might Be Giants

  5. Amy, I so hope your are right about the tipping point. And I certainly haven’t given up. Heck, I’m just getting started. As always, thanks for your inspiration!

  6. Fabulous commentary going on at the Healthbolt blog here, particularly from men feeling the same pressures. Check out Steve and Jorn’s comments here:

  7. Solid article in the LATimes re: CCFC’s nailing of Axe and the hypocrisy between Unilever’s ad strategy:,1,7694224.story?track=rss&ctrack=4&cset=true

    Here’s a snapshot of the polarity:

    “Kelly O’Keefe, a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University AdCenter, said Unilever was “playing with fire” if it was thinking that the divergence “wouldn’t be picked up on at some point.”

    “When you take a stance,” as Dove has with its anti-beauty industry marketing, “it does raise the game,” O’Keefe said.

    A recent Axe TV ad showed a young woman who, spotting a man wearing Axe body spray in a grocery store, shoved a wheelchair out of her way to get close to him, gyrating and singing “bom chicka wah wah.”

    That and similar advertisements spawned a music video in which lingerie-clad pole-dancing women sing about “skimpy thongs.”

    The Axe line’s U.S. website says that women turn into “lust-crazed vixens” around men wearing Axe, whose fragrance “acts upon the female libido and stimulates the clothing-removal section of the female brain.” The company recently hired comedian David Spade to help make “The World’s Dirtiest Film,” a collection of clips sent in by young men who are encouraged to engage in “dirty sexy fun” so they can wash it away with Axe Shower Gel.”

    ugh. Ax the Axe is right…bleh. Makes me want to take a shower for even being exposed to it…much less hearing middle-schoolers boppin’ around to the Axe song…UGH!

  8. WOW…PSFK posted a backlash video that depicts the colliding of these two brands under the Unilever umbrella, worth a look-see. Check it out:

  9. Hi this is a video for a social fund raising campaign developed by Terre des Hommes Italy

    The site to donate is .

    The protagonist is a paper toy called superhero TDH. The video is a spoof of Dove Onslaught…Hope you like it and help us to spread this. It is for a good reason.



  10. Hi Viral Avatar (for

    I’d love to help TDH, but my Italian is lousy, so please tell me more specifics about how the superhero factors in to the child exploitation-TDH cause-marketing so that I can feature it properly on Shaping Youth!

    My mom is fairly fluent, having lived in Italy several years, so I’ll ask her to help me, but could you translate more about the superhero theme and donor/YouTube (how it works, etc.) in English?

    The TDH site is very helpful, and I’ll post the FAQs to our readers pronto, to pay it forward…but our readers will want to know more about the whys and hows of the Dove mashup context to spread it properly!

    Pls. ping me back with a paragraph or press release blurb, as I was just interviewed about the mashup phenom of the Dove piece for the Chicago Tribune, and would love to add your positive message into the mix by forwarding your cause to their reporter!! Thanks, Amy

    Readers: Here’s more about Terre des Hommes, and their international efforts:

    Looking forward to hearing more on how you’re Shaping Youth!

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