Real Women, Real Beauty, Fake Ethnography


Dove has been making a big splash with its recent advertising campaign based on showing Real Women with all their flaws (i.e., a range of body tapes and ages that aren’t typical hair/skin care models), so it’s not surprising that a recent ad for Dove used the aesthetic of ethnographic interviews. This has been done a zillion times, especially in the last few years as ethnography becomes a more common touch point in our culture (and as the producer and the consumer collapse further). I’ve written about this many times, but I’m still struck whenever I see an ad doing this.

The Dove ad involved women being interviewed while they were bathing, and it cut between lower-quality video clips of several different women, with half of the clips being about the product, and half being about the process of being interviewed: “Oh, I’m in the tub, isn’t this a bit awkward?!”; “You’re all up in my armpit now.” were two examples.

I know a fair amount of research does get done in seemingly impossible settings such as the bathroom, but I’ve never been directly involved in such a study myself. I did see a Whirlpool presentation many years ago about how they did such a study (i.e., people wear bathing suits) but overall it sounds pretty fun just for the added challenges of establishing a comfortable rapport in such a socially awkward setting.


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