Consumers becoming critical of Dove's 'Real Beauty' ads

Dove's ad campaigns have been celebrated for featuring women instead of professional models, but also accused of exploiting insecurities to sell products.

Ads celebrating women were designed to sell them beauty products

In the first year of the 'Real Beauty' campaign, Dove sales were $2.5 billion. Ten years later, they've almost doubled to $4 billion. (Dove)

In 2004, a Canadian ad agency developed Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty." Its message to women — "You're beautiful the way you are" — was tremendously well-received and soon spread around the world.

What makes this marketing especially clever is that while Dove insists that "you're beautiful the way you are," individual ads still promote products that make "flat hair look more beautiful."

In 2005, Dove generated its first viral hit with "Evolution," a video that showed how advertising images of women are heavily manipulated. It generated upward of 50 million views.

But last year, Dove's "Sketches" video more than tripled that.

In the video, a police sketch artist behind a curtain draws each woman based on her own description. Then the artist draws the same women based on how a friend describes them.

Finally, the women are shown the two drawings and tearfully describe the difference.

The video ends with type that says, "You're more beautiful than you think."

Within days, there was a parody. In the male version, men are somewhat more flattering of themselves.

That video ends with type that says, "Men, you're less beautiful than you think."

But Dove's video from April 2014 didn't need a parody for viewers to see it as ridiculous and self-serving.

Somehow Dove found a group of women credulous and insecure enough to wear a patch believing it would make them feel more beautiful.

The power of suggestion worked. When the women learned the patch had nothing in it, they had the emotional epiphany Dove was looking for.

In a first for Dove, much of the social media response was negative. Commentators thought the video made women look stupid and did more for Dove's branding than for women's self-esteem.

Not that it's surprising for a long-running campaign to occasionally have a misstep or eventually generate less reverential response, but parodies of the "Patches" video made it obvious that more people are becoming aware of Dove's manipulation and hypocrisy.

Here, we see women in a similar experiment looking in a mirror. But instead of seeing themselves, they see someone in a gorilla suit.

It's likely that even after "Patches," many women will still buy Dove's "you're beautiful the way you are" message. But at least now, more women are viewing the campaign with a critical eye.