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20 years on: Dove and the future of Real Beauty

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Artificial intelligence is perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards which could soon dominate the digital world. That’s why, 20 years after launching its pioneering Campaign for Real Beauty, Dove is committing to never use AI to represent real women in its ads.

A woman holds a girl in her arms and both gaze in the same direction with smiles on their faces. Both have curly brown hair.

Two decades ago, Dove took a pioneering step to change the culture of beauty advertising with the launch of its Campaign for Real Beauty. Discarding stereotypes, the brand broke with convention by featuring real women instead of models in its ads – a move that resonated with audiences all over the world.

Since 2004, Real Beauty has challenged how women are represented in the media, highlighting digital distortion, and encouraging the beauty industry and society at large to face up to the harmful impact unrealistic depictions have on women and girls. And in a crowded beauty landscape, it’s helped Dove win consumers’ loyalty and affection.

Twenty years on, Dove has commissioned its biggest study to understand how beauty impacts women and girls today. We learned that there has been some positive change. Today, most women feel better represented by the beauty industry.

But in 2024, the explosion of artificial intelligence presents a new threat to real beauty.

Artificial intelligence vs Real Beauty

Dove’s new Real State of Beauty report highlights how narrow beauty standards impact women and girls today. While beauty and body image ideals have diversified over the years, the checklist for how women perceive they should look is growing – and impossible to meet.

  • 40% of women would give up a year of their life to achieve an ideal look or body.
  • 76% feel the need to look healthy, 68% to be slim, and 64% feel they need a small waist while also being curvy (57%).
  • 2 in 3 said they felt women today are expected to be more physically attractive than their mother’s generation was.

One of the biggest threats to the representation of real beauty is artificial intelligence, which perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards, and – so far – lacks representation in the content it creates.

Almost 9 in 10 women and girls said they had been exposed to harmful beauty content online and 1 in 3 feel pressure to alter their appearance because of what they see online, even when they know it’s fake or AI-generated.

With 90% of online content predicted to be AI-generated by 2025,[a] the rise of AI is a clear threat to women’s wellbeing.

A photo of an AI-generated image of a stereotypically beautiful woman, compared with Dove’s version of real beauty which is far more inclusive and representative.

Renewing Dove’s Real Beauty commitments

This is why Dove is increasing efforts to protect real beauty – committing to never use AI-generated content to represent real women in its advertisements. And Dove is taking action to equip creators, brands and anyone using AI with the Real Beauty Prompt Playbook, a free tool to help create visual content that widens the representation of beauty on the most popular generative AI tools.

“At Dove, we seek a future where women decide and declare what real beauty looks like – not algorithms,” explains the brand’s Chief Marketing Officer Alessandro Manfredi.

“As we navigate the opportunities and challenges that come with new technology, we remain committed to protect, celebrate, and champion Real Beauty. Pledging to never use AI in our communications is just one step. We will not stop until beauty is a source of happiness, not anxiety, for every woman and girl.”

Continuing Dove’s work with The Code

Dove’s new campaign, The Code, proposes a reflection to the viewer: the fact that AI, like any new technology, has the power to become whatever people want it to be. AI can mirror the societal biases towards women’s representation, but it can also learn to become more diverse and inclusive. The campaign does this by showcasing the irreversible change Dove has already made, creating a universal code for changing beauty.

The Code continues the work the brand started in 2004 and after two decades of this pioneering approach, the results speak for themselves. Dove achieved its highest underlying sales growth in more than a decade in 2023, delivering €6 billion for Unilever. This coincides with the brand reaching a milestone of 100 million young people educated on body confidence via the Dove Self-Esteem Project.

“Dove’s continued growth is a testament to the brand’s dedication to championing real beauty and the enduring connection that it has built with consumers around the world,” says Pau Bartoli, Dove Masterbrand Director.

“By putting real women and stories at the heart of our storytelling, we’ve been able to stay relevant, delivering campaigns that resonate and, ultimately, products that our consumers love.”

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