Sunday, February 7, 2010

Culture Jammin' with Dove

Ever heard of the term "culture jamming"? Culture jamming is the concept of disrupting or subverting a cultural norm (and the advertising that creates or maintains that norm) by creating a brand new message. They are traditionally driven by activist or non-profit groups and are meant to encourage people to question current assumptions about a cultural institution. It often involves taking an existing image and transforming it in order to show the flaws in the original assumption or to emphasize a reality.

Take the concept of body image. Andrea Gordon writes in a Toronto Star article about a culture jamming session that took place in Peterborough, Ontario. At the event, kids were encouraged to take a picture-perfect Barbie doll and use clay, fabric, and paint in order to make her look like a real woman. Enter Pot-Belly Barbie and Flat-Chest Barbie. The "Barbie Jamming" session was meant to challenge the typical body-image stereotypes that kids are frequently exposed to. You know, the skinny bikini girl and the six-pack muscle man.

As stated above, disrupting cultural institutions - which usually takes the form of attacking advertising - is usually the domain of activists and interest groups. Which is why it is especially interesting when the party doing the disrupting is an advertiser. The advertiser in question is, of course, Unilever, and the brand is Dove.

Dove broke through body image barriers when it began its Campaign for Real Beauty a few years ago. Rather than featuring picture-perfect models in their advertising in order to show off the product, the campaign featured real, often older women, flaws and all. On a mission to subvert common stereotypes and myths, the Dove Evolution spot revealed how unreal the women featured in magazines and in advertising actually are. The brand's positioning has been a success, and so it was no surprise when Dove decided to take on the body image barriers for the opposite sex.

Traditionally, advertising for male "beauty" products, like those from Gillette (see above) have featured perfectly-sculpted muscle-bound men - in other words, body image stereotypes. Enter the new Dove Men+Care brand, Dove's first product line aimed exclusively at men. The brand is being positioned at the "Real Man", the man who is comfortable with the way he looks and with the idea of using Dove products. 

Check out the launch spot for Dove Men+Care, which debuted on the Super Bowl:

Below is a Dutch ad for the new brand (I know it's not in English, but pay attention to the type of men that are featured):

Both spots are valiant attempts are culture jamming by portraying a realistic image of men. Dove's "Real Man" doesn't spend hours in front of the mirror admiring his perfect pecs, he's a stressed out, imperfect dude. But he's smart enough to be comfortable about himself and his body, and for this man there's Dove. Let's see if Dove's crusade for real men will be as successful as the Campaign for Real Beauty.

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