Special K’s New Ad Campaign Celebrates “Plus-Sized Real Women” — So Why Is It So Insulting?
4:30 pm, June 18th | by Amy Tennery
In advertising, standing out (for better or for worse) is the key. And it’s with this in mind that a new stunt from Special K (and that’s what it is — a stunt) will be so effective.
A new ad campaign from the cereal’s U.K. arm will feature “plus-sized women” in an effort to “show that losing weight isn’t just about the way you look or a certain size you need to conform to, but more importantly about the way it makes you feel,” as a Special K spokesperson told the UKPA. Sounds okay, I guess — that is, until you see what Special K’s idea of “plus size” is (model photo via Huffington Post):
Huh? This is “plus size?” If this is Special K’s idea of nonconformity, it sure is tough to tell. Couple this with Special K’s all-weight-loss, all-the-time product angle and this promotion is downright confusing (a request for comment from Special K was not returned). Special K’s “What Will You Gain When You Lose” campaign promises that I’ll feel “confidence, passion and joy” after I drop a few lbs — while simultaneously implying I should feel all those things already, because I’m Beautiful Just The Way I Am. Special K puts a svelte, model-esque bombshell in an ad campaign and we’re supposed to swoon at the brand’s forward-thinking diversity.
And, of course, we’ve seen this all before.
From a business standpoint, it’s not difficult to see why a brand would opt for this marketing strategy. Dove, which was arguably the pioneer of the trend, saw runaway success after it launched its own “Real Beauty” campaign. After launching it in 2004, Dove sales rose 11.4 percent in the first quarter of 2005, according to the CBC. And while it’s tough to draw a specific cause-and-effect pattern here, the near-compulsive level of media coverage for the campaign surely boosted sales all on its own. People were gobsmacked. News outlets stumlbed over themselves to give Dove coverage.
But why? Sure, the campaign used “real women” over models (a designation that’s problematic in and of itself, but we won’t dwell on that). And it featured women who ranged in age from 22 to 96. But what about the women’s sizes, a purported focus of the feel-good series of ads? They varied from size 4 to size 12, Dove explained when the campaign first launched. Size 4 to size 12? Wait a second — last I checked, overwhelming research shows most American women are a size 14 or larger. Whose “real beauty” is this, anyway?
The temptation is to say something like, “oh well, at least it’s progress!” At least the models in Dove’s — and Special K’s — campaign aren’t the same old, same old. But why? These brands stumbled onto a genius sales strategy. It’s earning them bank. They’re going to profit off of our collective, lowered expectations. And we’re practically shoving each other out of the way to congratulate them. Enough.
As Bitch so perfectly put it when Dove unveiled its campaign, “The feel-good ‘women are okay at whatever size’ message is hopelessly hampered by the underlying attempt to get us to spend, spend, spend to ‘correct’ those pesky ‘problem areas’ advertisers have always told us to hate about our bodies.” You should feel great about your weight, these campaigns say, but wouldn’t you feel better if you were just a little less heavy? How about you fix that with a bowl of Special K? No more — if this is a brand’s version of “real,” we’re not buying it.