Dove goes grey to fight beauty stereotypes

There’s been a lot of talk about women and grey hair following Bell Media’s shocking decision to dismiss Lisa LaFlamme as anchor of CTV National News. Now Dove Canada is harnessing some of that discussion in a timely new campaign.

Developed by Edelman Canada, “#KeepTheGrey” is a quick-response social media-led campaign that will see the personal care brand turn its iconic gold dove logo grey for several weeks, arguing that women should be allowed to age on their own terms, without any consequences.

The brand is also asking people to change the profile picture on their social media channels to grey in solidarity, and is donating $100,000 to Catalyst, a Canadian non-profit committed to building workplaces that work for women.

The campaign debuted on Monday, exactly one week after it was announced that LaFlamme had been pushed out of the CTV National News anchor chair at the age of 58. Much of the subsequent reporting around her firing claimed that her decision to go grey during the pandemic factored into the decision, leading to parent company Bell Media being assailed online for being both ageist and sexist.

According to reports, Bell Media’s executive vice-president of news, Michael Melling, openly questioned LaFlamme’s decision to go grey, demonstrating the sexist double standard that sees men with grey hair often described as “silver foxes,” while women with grey hair are often just “old.”

Dove has talked for many years about the unfair expectations women face when it comes to aging and beauty standards, but the campaign is emblematic of the brand’s ongoing attempts to “meet the moment.” The cultural discussion about grey hair in the wake of LaFlamme’s dismissal (like here, here and here), was the impetus for this particular campaign.

“There’s a lot of discussion about ageism right now, and we wanted to harness that energy for good,” said Leslie Golts, head of marketing, beauty and wellbeing division, with Dove parent Unilever Canada. “We have always been committed to making a positive experience of beauty available to all women. We saw an opportunity right now because it’s being talked about and it’s critical. If it’s not being talked about, change doesn’t happen.”

While Dove has never created a campaign specifically about grey hair, #KeepTheGrey is a continuation of its longstanding commitment to challenging the stereotypical view of beauty by depicting women of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities, said Golts.

It felt like “a really good moment” to introduce a campaign that directly addresses women being permitted to age naturally, said Golts.

“We want to address all ends of the beauty spectrum for girls and women, and as a brand and a leader in this space, we have a role to play,” she said. “We really want to be a brand that’s more inclusive of beauty across the board, so that’s why we felt it was our role to jump into this conversation and encourage more people to be supportive of this issue.”

The accompanying social video says that women with grey hair are being edged out of the workplace, before urging people to turn their social media profile grey.

Of course, advertising and the beauty industry is also at least partly to blame for the negative connotations surrounding grey hair for women.

In 1980, Clairol’s Loving Care brand found huge success with the jaunty ditty “I’m gonna wash that grey right outta my hair,” which opens with a woman ruefully staring at her lank grey hair in the mirror and saying that it makes her feel “so old.” Cut to scenes of what might be the most joyous shower ever, and the now dark-haired woman turning heads as she strides confidently through a restaurant.

However, even that commercial feels like real progress compared to 1920s ads featuring outrageous headlines like “Are gray-haired women honest?,” “You cannot afford to be gray,” and “Decline to be gray as long as youth beats in your heart.” Sexism doesn’t get more black and white than that.

Chris Powell