Allow me to preface this some. We have not done right by the Public Relations Society of America. Their top award was given out last Thursday and we've not said a word. No excuse. Perhaps on some level, in deference to my friend Marcy, I've avoided this topic. That was wrong and for that I am sorry.
For their bold campaign that challenged today's stereotypical view of beauty, Unilever and its AOR Edelman, were honored with the 2006 Best of Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America. The announcement was made last Thursday during PRSA's annual Silver Anvil Awards in New York City.
According to a global study, two-thirds of women strongly agree that the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can't ever achieve. Inspired by these findings, Dove launched the Campaign for Real Beauty in September 2004. This campaign, featuring six brave women who faced the world in nothing but their underwear and a lot of "sassy attitude," was launched with the hopes of changing the way women perceive their bodies, and their beauty, by widening the definition of what it means to be beautiful.
Unilever's hypocrisy aside, we applaud the thinking here. It is an important issue. What has been written on the subject could easily fit several libraries. Consumer advertising has had a devastating and long-term effect on womens' self image and self esteem. (As a good primer, we highly recommend the 1995 bestseller Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher, Ph.D.)
My boyfriend is also quite fond of the ad. Although, he and his buddies have a different perspective. Every time they see the ad they launch into their rendition of "Big Bottom," originally performed and made popular by Spinal Tap.
The bigger the cushion
The sweeter the pushin'
That's what I said
The looser the waistband
The deeper the quicksand
Or so I have read
My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo
I like to sink her with my pink torpedo
Talk about bum cakes
My girl's got 'em
Big bottom, drive me out of my mind
How can I leave this behind?
Well, apparently the power of the campaign is that it was well received by both sides of the issue. Now that's PR!
We all know that consumer advertising attempt to seduce the consumer and sell the fantasy of pleasure and glamour without delivering anything real - appealing to gender and social identities. Advertising is an important cultural factor of capitalism in the Western world today and it is synonymous with everyday life as we know it.
But the blame cannot be solely put on the advertising industry. We would have to give reference to the rise in capitalisim, particularly after WWII in the US.
It (advertising) has a crucial roll in the process of capitalism, from production to consumption; it helps the economic structures of mass media by cutting costs; it plays a roll in maintaining and extending capitalism and it now has a roll in constructing social identities.
So there is still a use for it - but now is the opportunity for good PR to come into its own.
I'd tend to agree about the abuses of advertising. But I am even more frightened about PR actually.
Stephen, if you haven't, I recommend you read Steven Poole's Guest Column (appears directly before this entry). Actually, buy his book. His analysis is pretty chilling. At least with advertising, I know they are lying to me.