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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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  • Mark

    Normally I like what Dove does, but the comment at the end shocked me...that beauty "couldn't be more critical".

    Although the worthy comment this piece makes is about our internal view of ourselves, we are talking about external beauty here, and to suggest that external beauty is so critical is really disturbing.

  • Daechoong Mama

    Thanks for your the behind the scenes look. I did have some thoughts on the ad as well. I think Dove has definitely galvanized a discussion on women's self image and self esteem.
     Here is my take as a Korean American:

  • Erica Wheelan

    My immediate response to this was three tears. Each fell with a hot splash onto my slightly-too hairy and slightly-too freckly arm. Looking at those women's expressions in response reminds me of the time someone drew a portrait of me for enjoyment and not pay...and I loved the way I looked nothing like the beast who stares back at me from my driver's license. 

  • Jennifer Hermon

    I think it's brilliant and it did it's purpose which is to make me think..."oh, maybe I'm not as horrible looking as I think"..
    People can find criticism if they need to. But maybe, instead... Spend time on spreading the message and helping women, especially those with depression, to see themselves differently.
    I don't see any other brand going to such lengths to make a difference in anything but their bottom line.
    I am a woman and I approve this message!  LOL

  • Josh Condon

    "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."
    The video shows collectively 10 seconds of women who AREN'T white. The "best bits" were descriptive words describing "blue eyes" and "thin faces" and the list goes on: http://jazzylittledrops.tumblr...

    The ultimate goal of this video, or their "point" is to make sure physical beauty continues to be strictly defined and that physical "beauty" is a supreme source of happiness. 

  • Josh Condon

     I think you misinterpreted what I was getting at. Your point about the lack of wheelchairs or glasses or hearing aids is exactly what my point was driving at, not skin color alone, that's just the only thing I typed. I'm aggravated that Dove was so narrow minded and focused on covering a very specific type of beauty. And the fact that physical beauty is the only thing they focused on is abhorrent. I linked an article that is much more eloquent than how I can put it, but my point is definitely not limited to skin color. I guess I can see how my comment is mostly tied to race, but my thoughts are completely in line with the article I linked, it's worth a read. 

  • Erica Wheelan

    That's horrible. I think you went out of your way to look for racism where it wasn't present, right down to counting seconds. It is ok to be white. It is ok to have blue eyes, just as it is ok to have darker skin or brown eyes. And yes - brace yourself - white women are beautiful too. Many people went out of their way while putting this together to make darn sure they had a wide array of color in here, lest people begin squawking "What?? They didn't show enough black people. This is racist!" They've spent a disproportionate amount of time portraying a race that represents just 13% of the nation's population to be certain there would be none of this "Oh sure, sure, I see how it is, WHITE women are beautiful" kind of snide talk. You responded this way anyway. 

    Would it be fair for me to rip into you for failing to point out that not a single one of these women had a noticeable physical disability of any sort? Where's your criticism of the lack of wheelchairs, glasses or in my own case - hearing aids. None of these women said, "Well, I wear my hair down so my hearing aids aren't as easy to see. I don't like to put my hair in a ponytail because then people's children interrupt me to ask, "What's that thing in your ear?" Even as old as adolescents, some children have never had their parents explain hearing impairments and hearing aids to their children. 

    I have never, ever seen a TV or movie character who was hard-of-hearing without being absolutely deaf and using sign language - and this means of communication was always directly pertinent to the storyline, most often leading to a punchline. In my own life experience, 4 of the 5 other hearing impaired young women I have befriended over the years hold college degrees and have husbands who find them beautiful. We are well-read, have feelings, enjoy music and are quite "normal", even if we ask "Could you repeat that?" more often over the phone and we wear awkward and unsightly things in our ears.
    Are we to believe that Josh Condon is bigoted when it comes to American women with disabilities? ...or are we just too ugly for your defense? :/

    By the way, where was the token Hispanic lady and more so, your disgust at her absence? 

  • O.S

    As a marketing student I find this advert to be somewhat contradictive of the overall mission Dove holds; I love the message being delivered but disagree with the way the message is delivered.

    I am in agreement with Josh on this one; although his argument is not strong; when considering that the real beauty campaign's mission is 'to make women WORLDWIDE feel beautiful' and as a global brand; the message is contradictive. The
    fact that the majority of women in the commercial are four Caucasian women, three blonde with blue eyes all thin and young with the oldest possibly being not older than 40; it is a narrow minded focus. People of colour in 6 minutes and 36 seconds are on screen for less than ten seconds and one of them is a man who is describing a woman to have beautiful blue eyes and not the one being judged for real beauty. If Dove want to make women WORLDWIDE feel beautiful they need to consider people of all ages, of different races and colour as well as those with a disability or impairment who are more sensitive to factors such as what ‘real beauty’ is.

    Yes Erica the women in this advert are beautiful and it is ok to have blue eyes and blonde hair but it is not the bigger picture. When people watch this advert and majority of those who watched it won’t be aware of the casting procedure and the fact that people of color were used and if they do look into it they will find that people of color were edited out; is this signifying that they are less beautiful due to their color and because they don’t have blue eyes or blonde hair. As a person of color I find this quite dismissive of people that are not Caucasian with blonde hair and blue eyes. If you want to show real beauty in 6 minutes and 36 seconds you can create a different advert that shows more diversity not just in skin color but a range of other characteristics and physical aspects.