Dove Men + Care
One of the more interesting new campaigns this season is the Dove Men + Care product launch, a campaign that addresses real men’s concerns about their bodies and identity.
In a similar vein to Dove’s campaign for real beauty featuring ‘real women’ of all shapes, ages and ethnicity, the Dove Men + Care product line employs ‘real men’ instead of models and aims to challenge popular and stereotypical portrayals of men in advertisement. The product line and its goal of stirring “an honest conversation about what it means to be a man” are ambitious and, well, refreshing.
Without a doubt Dove has studied and paid attention to men’s personal hygiene rituals and has produced a line of wash products engineered to men’s needs and attitudes. These products are designed to be more moisturizing and refreshing on the skin, and while this project has its heart in the right place, we wonder if the campaign truly offers us a counter option to our modern Malboro man’s products and appeal.
It’s clear that there are few men’s body care products on the market – especially at the drugstore- and we applaud Dove Men + Care’s initiative to offer an alternative to the likes of Irish Spring, Axe, and Old Spice. Yet the competition is still there with some interesting choices for men by Neutrogena Men and Biotherm Homme at the drugstore counter and Anthony Logistics For Men, Peter Thomas Roth, and Matte, and LAB Series For Men at specialty retailers such as Sephora.
After looking at the products and the campaign, it appears that the Dove Men + Care product line straddles the debate about ‘real men’.
For example, consider the sponge designed to help lather the body washes (pictured top and below). While the two-sided design of the sponge offers a nice choice of scrubbing surfaces and the exterior flexible plastic may make the sponge easier to handle, the design itself looks remarkably like a jockstrap. Coincidence? Let’s assume someone in the design lab made this visual connection and the team opted for maximum design benefit of the ease of grip and lather-ability over the unavoidable male groin reference.
The point isn’t necessarily for Dove Men + Care to offer products that are gender-neutral; this campaign aims to broaden the representation of men while still being for and about men. Even with this in mind, like it or not, the sponge does not evoke images of a re-invented man, but rather rehearses the old script that this campaign argues it isn’t: “It’s not about being power hungry, a sports star or a ladies’ man; it’s about being comfortable in your own skin.”
Could this sponge be as useful if it were shaped as, say, a circle? Probably. Would it sell to Dove Men + Care’s target demographic? How far will (and can) Dove Men + Care go at this launch stage to challenge the status quo?
This brings us to another consideration about the sponge: Dove names it the Active Clean Shower Tool. Sure, it has a function as an exfoliating and lathering accessory, but must we call it a “tool”? This word is rooted in a history of men’s labour: “tool” originates from the words tol and taw and tawian, meaning ‘prepare for use’ in the sense of ‘preparing (tilling) the soil.’
While there are some (although few) uses of the word “tool” describing various spa accessories aimed at female users, the word “tool” is commonly associated with all things ‘manly’ and worse, ‘man’s work’ that is traditionally of the Mr. Fix It/hands-on sort. The word is also widely used by the digital world- computer tools, online tools, etc. Despite the fact that some of Dove Men + Care’s customers will read “tool” and think of the technological uses of the word, we can’t help but feel that it is weighed with other meanings. We wonder at the logic and marketing informing this word choice.
Would the Dove Men + Care customer purchase an Active Clean Shower Sponge or Accessory? We certainly hope so. We side with Unilever and we want to see different men in their campaigns than the usual scruff and buff ideals of other advertising features- trouble is that the Dove + Men Care campaign has found ‘real men’ who aren’t models but still look like models.
The Dove Men + Care commercial video parodies key gender-defined successes and life paths for men and is an easy entry for men into the discussion of identity and self-realization. We feel that Dove Men + Care is taking a step in the right direction with this campaign, but with a conclusion offering a couple of eye-candy trophy males, we can’t help but wonder where the overweight, unattractive older men were when Dove sought to cast ‘real men’ in this feature. Is this traditional casting choice a reflection of an on-going fantasy about men- one that even ‘real men’ want to participate in? We honestly do not know.
We hope for the future that Dove Men + Care aims to shape. This campaign is a careful launch into new territory and has raised high expectations beyond offering a better hydrating solution for men’s skin. We need a campaign that evolves with the courage to feature all members of society globally and find out who they are- from the down and out all the way to our very best and our wisest.
And please, reconsider your language: words shape identity and some old tools are better left to the other team.