Opinion: Dove campaign blaming graphic designers and retouchers is pure hypocrisy

Digital Arts | 06 March 13

'Skincare' brand Dove's latest campaign from Canada takes a swing at those 'directly responsible' for retouching photos in ad campaigns, magazines and newspapers. The hypocrisy of this is somewhere between laughable and shout-at-your-monitor aggrevating.

In the viral ad above by Oglivy Toronto as part of Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign, the brand claims it wants to reach out to those working on producing 'idealised' images of women (and men, I guess). It created a Photoshop Action that it pushed out onto "sites designers use" such as PSDTuts and, erm, Reddit. The Action claimed to add a flattering glow effect to photos, but instead reverted a photo back to its original form – adding Dove's 'Real Beauty' message to the composition.

It's a smart, funny campaign that appears well-meaning until you remember that it's often the creatives at ad agencies and the clients they are serving that are the ones demanding that models bear only a passing resemblace to reality.

Look a little deeper and the Dove is owned by Unilever – owner of the likes of Lynx (Axe to our American cousins), Brut, Tresemmé and lots of other brands that I'd be very surprised if they didn't retouch every models in every one of their campaigns. Worldwide, Oglivy works for clients including Coke and Louis Vuitton.

I'm not denigrating the aim of the campaign – by exploiting that the general public is more easily sold to by a 'prettier' face or 'sexier' form, the creative industries as a whole are responsible for permeating body image problems to both women and men, which can be especially damaging to children and teenagers. But for an ad campaign to single out graphic designers and retouchers is hypocrisy, plain and simple.


Caligraphis Design said: agreed! the Dove execs have final say on everything they put out, if they wanted their in-house staff to stop retouching photos, it would be a quick memo. The guy at the bottom, doing the retouching, is almost always "just followin' orders, sir."

Starblack said: I see absolutely nothing wrong with retouching images as Designers and artists its our work to make things more appealing to the clients, we serve our clients just as Dove will serve theirs. Not unless for them every AD is a lie!

malarts said: Having a finger to point and an opinion doesn't solve the problem either.

malarts said: No, JK, this is a diversion. A corporation finding a ( admittedly effective ) way to get ahead of an issue that may have negative effect on their product. No one is excusing a particular designer for "pushing the button" , but the idea that a sole designer is responsible for a certain "look" is denying a vast cultural machine, that includes consumers by the way, and is responsible for perpetuating all kinds of stereotypes and tweaked perceptions.The ad above basically absolves corporate entities of any responsibility in such matters. Hypocrisy is damn near not strong enough a word! Let's see the same transparency in a short film about the production of Dove soap products?

Andy said: Are you serious? So you are essentially saying that your career, your livelihood should come second to this need to stop retouching photos that go on ads? Who are you to tell the companies to stop hiring people to do it? Who are you to tell a graphic designer to quit his/her job because it is bad to do what you were hired to do? With logic like that no wonder this campaign failed.

J.K. said: Extreme? The principle is the same. The difference is that if someone took a stand in a concentration camp he would be risking his life.It's not really about which level of retouching I think is bad... It's about how the person who does it sees it. If he/she thinks it's unheathy for people and still does it... then he/she should claim resposibility for their part and yes... maybe even take a stand.Having a boss/client doesn't absolve you from anything.

chinchillasoup said: Comparing retouching to Nazi activities ("turning people into soap") seems a little extreme, so JK, what is it you actually think retouchers do? And do you think retouching at all levels is inherently bad?

J.K. said: So as long as they pay you to do it, it's ok right? A lot of people turned a lot of other people into soap thinking that, at one time. So yes, if your job is doing something you don't agree with, then change jobs. What good is living in a free country if you can't do that?

J.K. said: It's everyones fault, but you're still the one actually doing it, Randy. The problem is we put money in front of everything... Even lives.

chinchillasoup said: He? Not all retouchers are men. As a mum with 2 daughters, I really welcome any debates on retouching and how it affects our society, in particular young women, but my point is merely that the Dove campaign doesn't give an accurate representation of the decision makers behind creative industries. The statement that retouchers are "directly responsible" for the images we help create just isn't true in my experience. I personally would LOVE to have complete control over the final image, as would many retouchers I know, who like me, tend to come from a background in art/photography. I'd love to see more wrinkles, wonky teeth, grey hairs and cellulite; images of women who don't necessarily fit a very narrow definition of beauty. But normal looking people don't sell products, unless they are part of a marketing campaign ;)

Randy said: Try as you might but arguing with a client on the limitations of retouching is something that we retouchers have been doing for years. Too bad all the client wants is something that the general public would be enamored at thus making their products sell like lemonade on a really humid day.

Florina Astilean said: sooo what you are saying is that he should take a stand and resign for all the stupid things clients are asking...

J.K. said: So what you're saying is that, as long as someone else told you to do it, you're not responsible for it? Hmmm...

chinchillasoup said: I work as a retoucher and my personal preference is always for a more natural style- I actually like freckles and wrinkles! But I have very little say in the end product. In my experience, it is rarely the retoucher, the artworker, or even the art director who lead the style of an image, but is often the client (who is paying for it). And, to be frank, I often think that photos are retouched more than they need to be just so that the client can obviously see where their money has gone. So, although the above Dove campaign is interesting as an idea, if it is genuinely trying to promote change (which I'm not convinced it is) it is definitely targeting the wrong people..