But even those ads are too ordinary to notice over time. So marketers also try to get creative with form. Here’s one example. A public-transit staircase sits next to an escalator. The treads of the escalator are painted yellow, and the DHL brand mark is imprinted on the landing. Next to it, the word “OtherServices” is applied to the floor in blue and orange—which just happen to be the colors of the FedEx logo. The implication is clear: DHL is faster than FedEx.
Here’s another. The wall of a bus shelter is encased in 3M Security Glass, which is also the product to be advertised. The wall appears to contain be hundreds of bundles of currency. The ad dares its subject to test the promise the product makes.
In both of these cases, the ads work because they give consumers an experience of the product advertised. In the DHL ad, the comparison of the escalator and the stairs lets the consumer feel the speed differential. In the 3M Security Glass ad, the consumer almost can’t help but accept the invitation to try to test the glass's durability. These advertisements mix reason and emotion, creating delight in coming to understand the product.
And then there’s the Dove Real Beauty Bottle. Like 3M and DHL, Dove aims to mix reason and emotion. The setup is right—a product that embodies its message. But the problem is that the result is incoherent and contradictory. The bottles negate rather than support the advertiser’s associative claims.
Consider some scenarios. A pear-shaped woman has run out of body wash. She visits the local drug store, where she finds a display of Dove Real Beauty Bottles. To her chagrin, now she must choose between pear- and hourglass-shaped soap. She must also present this proxy for a body—the one she has? the one she wishes she did?—to a cashier to handle and perhaps to judge. What otherwise would have been a body-image-free trip to the store becomes a trip that highlights body-image.
Now imagine actually using the bottles. In the shower, they become slippery. The pear shapes are unwieldy, all their weight pressed to the sides. That will make them hard to hold in a single-hand. The tall, thin bottles are gangly. They fall over easily when bumped on the shelf.
Ah, but which bottle is least cumbersome? The hourglass-shaped bottles, of course. The ones with big “bosoms” and “hips,” providing firm grip around the “waist” when wet. And just like that, against the campaign’s hopes, Dove engineered bottles that, through functional differences, inadvertently imply there is a best body after all.
* * *
Capitalism doesn’t care about you. But usually it takes some work to uncover that truth. Dove is owned by the conglomerate Unilever, which also owns Axe. Axe makes the same kind of products Dove does, but markets them to young men, often in overtly sexist ways. That’s a hypocrisy that reveals advertising’s true scruples, which involve extracting incremental value from your wallet as efficiently as possible. But at least hiding the hypocrisy in the common ownership of a parent company also obscures it from the consumer’s view.