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Dove’s New Attempt to Empower Women Backfires; Sparks Twitter Backlash

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By Quentin Forrell | 6:58 am, October 20, 2016

Dove is selling moisturizing soap wrapped in female self-empowerment. But Twitter isn’t buying it.

The hair and skincare products maker owned by Unilever  sent out a series of tweets Monday in the latest push for its #SpeakBeautiful campaign, launched last year. The company’s tweets were timed just before the final U.S. Presidential debate Wednesday evening between the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump. Given the allegations of sexual assault against Trump and his comments about some of his accusers’ looks, it has become a topical and important issue in the election. “Body shaming has no place in this election,” Dove says. And a Dove beauty expert talks about hurtful hashtags it says girls use online.

Not only has the reaction been overwhelmingly negative on Twitter but many of the tweets have been downright rude. They effectively told the marketing team at Dove to stop talking down to women and to stay out of politics. One such tweet that rubbed some women (and even men) the wrong way: “If you know a girl who has been negative online—about herself or others—try this fun activity to spread positivity.” Dove’s (rather witty, if bemused) Twitter followers appear to find it condescending. One woman wrote: “Oh God. They’ve made a campaign out of those men that tell you to SMILE.” (Dove did not respond to request for comment.)

So what went wrong? There’s a fine line between self-esteem and self-interest, and rather than target the coarse discourse on Twitter against women (most recently seen against actress Leslie Jones) Dove focused on how women talk about themselves and each other. “I can appreciate the goal of advancing a positivity message — as a mom, I want my daughters to exude all their power — but I sure don’t want a consumer company dictating to them,” says Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, vice president for Development at the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute at New York University. “And this campaign is pretty careless. It smacks of simplicity and condescension.”

Others say that the positive message itself focuses on the negative, instead of highlighting the best examples of women and girls empowering themselves. “A ‘redo’ campaign means they are focused on the negative, assuming the worse and judging without understanding,” says Michelle Patterson, chief executive of Women Network, an online community forum for women. “Why not ask to tweet positive tweets and focus on the positive comments rather than the negative? There is already a feeling at times of am I good enough — a campaign needs to focus on the positive and how we show up supporting one another.”

It’s not the first time that Dove has received criticism for its social media campaigns. Last year, the company’s #ChooseBeautiful video showed five women in different cities walking through a door marked “Beautiful” or “Average.” Most walked through the latter door, but soon more women decide to choose the “Beautiful” door. The ad was called “passive-aggressive and patronizing” by one commentator in The Guardian, who argued that the company wants you to choose Dove, but has still racked up over 7 million views on YouTube and Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign was ranked No. 1 in the 21st Century (so far) by Ad Age magazine.

When large corporations cross the line into social commentary it can easily backfire. Last year, Starbucks got into hot water with its #racetogether hashtag that went viral on social-networking sites, generating lots of publicity across Twitter — but probably not for the reasons that the coffee company had hoped. The company asked its baristas and customers to talk about race in an effort to start a conversation, especially given the #BlackLivesMatter movement. However, Hasan Minhaj, a comedian, tweeted: “Before they write #RaceTogether on cups, can Starbucks just spell my name correctly? #SahanMinha #HansonMinaja #SaddamHussain.”

This article was originally published on Marketwatch

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