The Self-Esteem Movement: Why Marketers Want You to Love Yourself (and How They Can Fail)

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Marketing has seen a number of changes in style and tone over the years, but one of the most influential and popular trends in the last decade has been the “body positive” advertising movement. Companies like Dove and Lane Bryant have been prominent players in this movement, which predominantly targets women, to encourage customers to embrace their bodies instead of criticizing themselves. As seen by some of their recent ads, this targeting method isn’t always effective.

These marketing campaigns are intended to give viewers a sense of confidence, which they then associate with the brand, creating a strong emotional brand connection. These campaigns have benefited the companies that use them effectively, both in sales and in branding; for example, Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign ended up earning the company $7 million in incremental sales after months of drought.

A customer is more likely to remember a product or advertisement that makes them feel good, because emotions significantly affect memory formation. One of the most popular examples of this is Dove’s “Beauty Sketches” campaign where participants were asked to describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist and then describe other women in their participant group.

The short film demonstrated the profound disconnect that exists in women’s perceptions of themselves and was such a success it became the most watched Youtube video of all time, which increased Dove’s visibility abroad and domestically. At the time this article was written, it has 67,778,000 views.

Self-Aware Representation

Due to the emotional impact of self-esteem based ads, customers are also more likely to perceive the message and the products attached to it as being genuine, because it echoes what customers are already thinking.

The Dove “Real Beauty” campaign was launched because a study showed that only two percent of women participants considered themselves “beautiful,” demonstrating a persistent and present need in the customer base.

So, instead of inventing a slick marketing campaign, Dove simply supplied what customers already wanted; a more personable image that supported women and the body issues they struggled with the most.

Lane Bryant’s “No Angel” campaign changed the message from “how women can become beautiful” to “these women are already beautiful.”

A large part of the success of these campaigns is based in promoting feelings of self-respect and personal strength. This approach enables customers to seek out products that help to solve their problems through acceptance and a change in perspective.

Increase in Confidence, Increase in Sales

Self-esteem and body positive marketing campaigns may have their own moral implications of changing body politics, but that doesn’t change the fact that businesses exist to make a profit. In the 10 years since Dove introduced its “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004, sales increased from 2.5 billion to 4 billion.

The considerable increase is also compounded with Dove winning a number of advertising awards for its contributions with the “Real Beauty” advertisements, further adding to the company’s and the campaign’s credibility. Instead of being bombarded with “ideal” body types, which affect women negatively, positive images and accepting language help build customer trust, which translates into increased revenue.

Dove’s Recent Missteps

Dove has continued to make attempts to represent the “beauty of diversity,” but its ads don’t always hit the mark. Earlier this month, Dove posted a three-second video clip on its Facebook page of a black woman in a brown shirt, removing the shirt and apparently transforming into a white woman in a lighter shirt. After severe negative backlash and criticisms of racial insensitivity, Dove immediately pulled the ad and started sending out apologies.

It’s obvious why the ad was offensive, and Dove appeared to sincerely apologize — alongside insistence that the ad was meant with the best intentions to align with its commitment to the “beauty of diversity.” It’s an excellent example of how an attempt at improving self-esteem, self-love, and diversity can go awry — if you aren’t sincere enough, or if you don’t understand the feelings and perceptions of your target audience. Dove clearly fell out of touch with its customers when it produced this ad, and its PR team is still trying to recover.


An intoxicating combination of emotional appeal and problem solving has led to great success for the companies that continue to use these marketing techniques — so long as they use them with caution. If executed tastefully, self-esteem campaigns have proven to not only be a boon for branding and sales by fulfilling a present need in a customer base, but also that they can function as a facilitator for positive change in cultural and societal stereotypes.

The advertising industry, and our society as a whole, are both better off with self-esteem campaigns, because we’re all happier when we feel stronger and more confident about ourselves.

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