In my time doing research on issues in the gaming industry, representation has always been a clear factor of whatever question I am pursuing.
But that’s not really news or surprising. Honestly, most people know on one level or another that representation matters – it may just look different to the individual, and it may harbour different meanings for different people. One truth always comes to light: Everybody wants to see themselves, the way they truly are, in the media they consume.
So, when hygiene and beauty brand Dove came out with their new advertisement targeting gamers, there seemed to be some turmoil. The intention behind the advertisement was to “take a stand against overly sexualised women in video games,” according to The Drum.
In the advertisement, we see a woman who, at first, has a slimmer body type. Then, once she has won her battle, we see her take her adornments off and it is revealed that she is actually plus size, and the armour was squishing her body into something that is presumed to be ‘standard.’ Once she is called in for her next battle, she decides to lose the armour that changes the way she looks and embraces her natural body as it is. In the ad, Dove also mentions that 74% of girls feel underrepresented in video games, and they have partnered with Unreal Engine and Women in Games in an effort to change this.
The intent behind the advertisement is to see a more realistic representation of what women’s bodies look like in video games. However, fans were not happy with the message that came across. Of the comments that were actually constructive, the one that came to light quite often was that this was quite deductive of what a woman who plays games looks like.
Mass media like advertising and video games is an important part of normalising different social aspects of society. So, overall, it is positive that there seems to be a move away from unrealistic body standards. However, there is no merit in moving from one body standard to another without considering that there is a large range of bodies that exist in different circumstances.
The advertising side of things
Representation establishes common norms and acceptance of what is being represented in modern society. So, walking from one side of the spectrum to the other without acknowledging the in-between is not the way to making positive long-term changes. All it does is give another industry-and-socially-wide singular standard.
This is particularly pertinent in marketing and advertising, where visual representations are the key way that a company depicts meaning and voices messages to its audience. In this example, it is evident that Dove is trying to reach out to a new demographic – which is pretty typical for a big name brand – but have they done it right?
The main issue I found with this campaign is the messaging. It’s confusing, because they talk about sexualising women, but they also mention representation issues, and then they mention a partnership to ‘right’ these ‘wrongs’. But nothing is clear – what are they doing, exactly? And why are these issues bad in the first place? There is a mention of research they have done on girls who feel misrepresented in video games, but who are these girls? What demographic do they belong to? What games are they playing?
These are some of the unanswered questions that immediately came to mind when I first saw the advertisement. Which is a problem in itself, too, because you shouldn’t be left with so many questions from a marketing standpoint.
Overall, this is not a bad thing. It’s good that the mass media is trying to make representation a more important and realistic factor in shaping society, instead of what is presumed should be the ‘good’ standard. However, this needs to be done in a smart way. After this kind of advertisement, you could be left with the thought that Dove is trying to reach out to this demographic without really understanding the people that are part of it – and it comes across as pandering to ideas that have been mentioned in passing, not real-world issues that are applicable in so many people’s lives.
As such, we are left with a situation where it is difficult to take positive-coded campaigns like this seriously; and is that not the opposite of what they are trying to achieve?