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The Story Behind Dove's Mega Viral "Real Beauty Sketches" Campaign

Anselmo Ramos, creative lead on Dove’s "Real Beauty Sketches" hit discusses the making of a viral sensation.

Dove’s "Real Beauty Sketches" campaign has officially gone viral: The YouTube video has over 8.6 million views at the time of this writing and has inspired commentary in tons of outlets, including the New York Times, ABC News, this very site, and in the Huffington Post, where a positive piece about the campaign has been shared almost 40,000 times on Facebook. It has inspired a parody of the original, and now even the blogger backlash to the ad—which complains that it focuses too much on a narrow definition of beauty—has itself gone viral. It’s a real mark of Internet success when even your backlash gets press.

If you haven’t seen it already here or elsewhere, the ad depicts an FBI forensic artist named Gil Zamora sketching women (that he can’t see) by the way they describe themselves. He says things like, "Tell me about your chin," to which these women depressingly reply, "It kind of protrudes a little bit, especially when I smile," or "My mom told me I had a big jaw." Then strangers sit down and describe these same women to Zamora. The resulting sketches—the ones based on strangers’ descriptions—are ultimately more attractive and look more like their subjects than the ones based on self-description. The idea is that women are too critical of themselves. The tagline: "YOU are more beautiful than you think!"

Anselmo Ramos, a vice president and creative director at Ogilvy Brazil, is one of the key creatives behind this ad—as well as other ingenious creations, like the ad featuring a karaoke mic doubling as a breathalyzer as a way to combat drunk driving. He spoke to us about the inspiration behind the real beauty sketches and how these videos were made. "Everything is a conversation really," Ramos says of his creative philosophy. "Consumers are ready to engage with brands. We just need to entertain them."

The Origin of the Idea

We got a simple and ambitious brief from our clients: Make women feel better about themselves. Back in 2007, when Dove won the Cannes Grand Prix with "Evolution," the "Real Beauty" concept was a completely different point of view from the entire beauty industry. Now that the Campaign for Real Beauty has been established, our job was to talk straight to women in a more intimate, personal way. According to statistics, only 4% of women feel good about themselves across the globe. We decided to do something that would move the other 96%. From the very beginning, we tried to look for an idea that could actually prove they are wrong about their self-image. An experiment. We had several ideas, but "Real Beauty Sketches" really stood out.

Was There A Back-up Plan?

We always say that if you know exactly what you’re doing, then probably you’re not doing something really new. We like to come up with ideas that a) haven’t been done before, and b) we have no idea how the heck we’ll do it. With "Real Beauty Sketches," we thought that women would probably describe themselves in a more negative way than strangers. But it was just a guess really, based on common sense and women’s nature. It could go totally wrong. When we told the idea to the clients, we said: "Listen, this is the idea. We don’t know if it’s going to work, but we think it will. The only way to find out is by doing it." So there’s a lot of merit to the clients, because they didn’t approve a script; they approved a social experiment.

Finding the Best Artist Around

We did an extensive research to find the best sketch artist out there. When we found Gil Zamora, and he told us about his drawing technique by asking questions, and we saw his style and personality, we knew we’d found the right guy. He got really excited about the project and he was crucial for the campaign. There’s something really powerful when you bring together two elements from completely different worlds: an FBI-trained sketch artist and women’s self-esteem.

Casting the Women

The participants where selected through a normal casting session. We looked for women from different ages and ethnicities. And women that could represent well Dove’s concept of "Real Beauty." The strangers were also selected through casting. The goal was to find nice, easygoing, outspoken people, who could quickly befriend someone and would be able to describe that person later.

Directing the Shoot

The shoot took three days in a loft in San Francisco. Gil would draw a woman describing herself in a day and then draw the stranger describing the same women on a different day. Gil would never really know who exactly he was drawing. The project was shot by John X Carey from Paranoid US. He was the perfect director for the project. He shot it in a beautiful documentary-style way, capturing all the right emotions on camera.

Why It Went Viral

I think it went viral because it moves you, because it makes you think, because it’s based on a true insight. Most ads today don’t evoke any clear emotion, they just communicate a particular product or service benefit. We wanted to do something really emotional. Most women cry when they watch it. But not only women; men, too, because they think about their mothers, sisters, and daughters. I myself cried several times. We knew we had something good in our hands, but yes, we are a little surprised by how fast it went viral. We love it when something we do gets talked about beyond advertising trade publications, by magazines like Fast Company. We also love it when people make the concept their own, by making spoofs and parodies. The "Men: You’re Less Beautiful Than You Think" spoof is really funny.

Responding to Critics Who Say Their Definition of Beauty is Too Narrow

I think the project is pretty diverse. We had Caucasian, African-American, Asian women participating. Like always, we’ve used the best bits, the best moments in terms of editing and to make our point. If 99% of people like it, I think it’s fine. There will always be someone that will say something, no matter what you do. What really matters is that people are spreading quickly the message of "Women: You’re More Beautiful Than You Think." And I think it’s an important and necessary message to put out there. We feel really good about it. Because right now, some woman, somewhere, is watching this film and feeling better about herself.

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