DARWIN AND DOVE
Mr. Sutherland on using the System 1 brain to sell cosmetics:
"Some tremendous work done by Ogilvy in Canada on Dove – that’s interesting because there’s a Darwinian explanation for that.
"If you look at most women’s fashion advertising and photography, you look at the pages of Vogue, there are three things you can say about the women featured in the pages: They’re generally a bit younger than the target audience, they’re a bit thinner, and they’re never smiling. ... How does that work?
"The reason is, if you’re Geoffrey Miller, this brilliant Darwinian psychologist, you would say the job of the woman in the advertisement is to be a threat to the target audience. To represent the woman who is effectively threatening the status and possibly relationship of the woman who’s reading Vogue. That is using beauty as a rivalrous good, as a comparative good. The purpose of being beautiful is to be more beautiful than someone else. It's effectively combative and competitive.
"There are four things about Dove: The women aren’t particularly young, they’re not necessarily thinner than the target audience, they appear in groups frequently rather than on their own, and they’re smiling. What that is, is beauty as an intrinsic good. I enjoy being beautiful not so I can squash my female friends and drive them into submission by my superior thinness; it’s enjoying beauty for its own sake. That distinction is very interesting. … Sometimes the emotion is there already, and what you need to do is simply provide it with ammunition. … A great deal of that Dove advertisement is effectively providing us with a beautiful expression of something which is already there. I don’t think people who are on the other side of the debate – I don’t think a super-slender supermodel is going to say, ‘Actually you’re right all along and I’m going to start eating burgers.’ What it does undoubtedly, is it taps into a sense based on an insight that when women read conventional women’s magazines they leave the experience feeling worse about themselves than they did to begin with.
"So it has a framework of rationality, that’s absolutely true. But the reaction it arouses is not really a rational one. It plays to a deep-set belief that we’re being manipulated and tinkered with."