Dove challenges the media’s portrayal of athletes

Animated billboard in Toronto broadcasts real-time commentary from media outlets


As Olympic athletes step into the spotlight, Dove is putting the media in the hot seat.

In a new interactive campaign, the Unilever-owned brand is calling out media commentators who focus on female athletes’ looks over their accomplishments.

Animated billboards in Toronto (at Yonge and Dundas), New York and L.A. will broadcast real-time sexist commentary from media outlets in several English-speaking countries. As the negative comments appear on the billboard, the images of the female athletes gradually disappear, symbolizing how people lose sight of the whole person when they only focus on their appearance.

The media commentary will be fed to the billboards by a real-time online aggregator that allows consumers to view it online at

“Media commentary that focuses on female athletes’ appearance over their performance is really prevalent,” said Diane Laberge, marketing director at Unilever Canada, in an interview with Canadian Grocer‘s sister publication Marketing.

“We believe that this will be increasingly common and apparent over the next few weeks with the global spotlight being put on female athletes. It’s obviously timely to bring this issue to the forefront.”

Laberge noted an analysis of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine covers found 64% of female athletes featured are shown in passive poses, such as glamorous or sexualized shots, while the majority of men (61%) are portrayed in action-oriented imagery emphasizing their athletic skills.

The billboards continue Dove’s global #MyBeautyMySay campaign, which launched in June. The campaign aims to empower women to stand up against judgments about their appearance in all areas of their lives including the workplace.

“Our intention is to create a world where a woman’s beauty isn’t used against her, but it’s really celebrated on her own terms and with her own accomplishments,” said Laberge. “This summer, we’ve taken action to expose comments that are in the media that can belittle a female athlete’s achievements, while at the same time encouraging people to take a stand and change that conversation.”

To that end, Dove is asking people to tweet at media outlets that focus on a female athlete’s appearance. They can also share their own experiences online about being judged by their appearance versus their accomplishments using #MyBeautyMySay.

On the PR front, Dove has enlisted Canadian champion ice dancer Tessa Virtue and model Winnie Harlow as spokespeople for the campaign.

The campaign creative was developed by Razorfish in New York. Mindshare handled the media buy, Harbinger is handling PR and Ogilvy is overseeing social media.

The idea of calling out the media for sexist commentary about athletes may sound familiar. Last year, a video by Toronto agency John St. showed what it would be like if the media asked male athletes questions about their outfits, body hair and weight gain. The athletes’ perplexed and angry responses were edited together from other interviews to show how absurd it is that females are asked these questions.

Laberge said Dove is “definitely familiar” with the campaign “and we were really thrilled to see that campaign come out when it did. I think while other campaigns have addressed the issues related to how athletes are interviewed, or how women in sports can be harassed… Dove has launched the My Beauty, My Say campaign to really challenge the biased way women are represented in the media by their looks versus achievements in all facets of life.”

This article first appeared on


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