Dove erected a very pointed billboard about toxic beauty on social media

Who: Unilever, with Ogilvy for creative and strategy; Edelman for PR.

What: “Injectable Billboard,” an out-of-home activation that uses thousands of syringes to make a statement about unhealthy beauty standards imposed upon young women and girls.

When & Where: The billboard was erected in Toronto’s Square One mall for three days, but additional content about the billboard will be pushed out through social and digital media.

Why: For almost 20 years now, Dove has been a beauty brand striving to redefine beauty standards. That objective has been made more complicated by the proliferation of social media, which is filled with harmful beauty “advice” and celebrations of unrealistic and unhealthy standards.

“Every time a young girl scrolls her feed, she’s bombarded with toxic beauty content,” said Francesco Grandi, chief creative officer for Ogilvy Canada.

Dove has been tackling this specific issue as part of its Dove Self-Esteem Project. A year ago, the #DetoxYourFeed campaign encouraged teens to unfollow anything that doesn’t make them feel good about themselves. Last month, Dove took direct aim at the viral “Bold Glamour” filter with the #TurnYourBack campaign.

“We’re so proud to have reached 94.5 million young people to-date through the Dove Self-Esteem Project, and have a goal to reach 250 million by 2030 through this ongoing work,” said Rishabh Gandhi, Unilever Canada’s beauty and personal care lead.

New Dove research from Vividata provides data to show the magnitude of the problem.

  • Over a third of Canadian girls 14-17 are unhappy with their appearance
  • 74% of Canadian girls 14-17 want to change at least one thing about their appearance
  • Over one in five of Canadian girls 14-17 would get cosmetic injectables to be more beautiful

And more than 50,000 Canadian girls aged 14 to 17 had injections for cosmetic reasons in the last year—altering their appearance in part because of what they see in their social feeds. That stat was the inspiration for “Injectable Billboard.”

How: Ogilvy created the billboard of a young girl, with the simple factual message printed across her face: “Over 50,000 cosmetic injectables were performed on our teens last year.” While the message is clear at first glance, upon closer inspection, the billboard has added impact: the entire board is made with coloured syringes, so the young girls face is pierced by tens of thousands of needles.

“These girls are feeling pressured to alter the way they look, when they are still changing and developing,” said Grandi. “When we discovered the 50,000 stat, we were shocked. We thought the best way to bring attention to the issue was to visualize it.

“We wanted to deliver something that would continue to elevate the conversation around how harmful toxic beauty ideals can be on young girls’ self-esteem,” added Gandhi. “And when Ogilvy came back with this concept based on real data from Vividata, we knew we needed to bring it to life to drive awareness.”

Ogilvy also created a social film, and is creating 15- and six-second social films to amplify the message, and direct people to the site, which explains the billboard and encourages downloads of the Confidence Kit—a guide to help young people build body confidence, including tips on how to make social media a healthier place.

And we quote: “As a brand that is committed to elevating conversations around threats to self-esteem and body confidence, we wanted to bring attention to the harmful nature of beauty ideals and its negative impact on youth through the Injectable Billboard.”—Rishabh Gandhi, Unilever Canada’s beauty and personal care lead.

David Brown