BY Fast Company 4 MINUTE READ

When Dove launched its “Evolution” commercial in 2006, it went viral almost immediately. The spot showed a time-lapsed inside look at how an image goes from photograph to beauty ad—and all the digital manipulation in between. It was one of the first truly viral ads of the digital era, and a perfect extension of the brand’s then-2-year-old “Campaign for Real Beauty.”

This week, the Unilever-owned brand marked the 20th anniversary of “Real Beauty” by making another, updated statement on digital manipulation. “The Code” highlights the negative impact of AI tools on the definition of beauty and the self-image of women and girls. Then it shows how generative AI interprets these same prompts when the brand adds “according to Dove Real Beauty Ad,” revealing more realistic and diverse images. It ends with Dove pledging to never use AI to create or distort women’s images.

In a new global study, the brand found that 39% of women feel pressure to alter their appearance because of what they see online, even when they know it’s fake or AI generated. As a result, Dove created Real Beauty Prompt Guidelines, a guide on how to create images that represent real beauty on the most popular generative AI programs.

“It is Dove’s mission to support more inclusive beauty representation by breaking down industry bias and broadening the definition of beauty so that everyone can have a positive experience with the way they look,” Kathryn Fernandez, Dove’s senior director of purpose and engagement, tells Fast Company. “To do this, we are constantly identifying potential new threats to real beauty and working to disarm them. With 90% of the content we see expected to be AI generated by 2025, we knew we needed a firm response.”


Brands like Under Armour, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, and Heinz have used AI tools to create ads in which the novelty of that AI use appears to be the point of the ads themselves. At a time when anything remotely containing the two letters AI will get people’s attention, it’s perhaps no surprise that a brand would use the moment to make a contrarian statement on its use. But Dove is different: It did so in a way that built upon and enhanced work it’s been doing for decades.

Nandi and Chuck Welch, cofounders of brand consultancy Rupture Studio, say that this new work and statement line up perfectly with the original intent of the “Real Beauty” campaign, and are important since more brands have taken a page from Dove’s playbook on an inclusive and empowering approach to female self-image.

“This isn’t a radical modern update to that original campaign; they’ve been doing that consistently over the years,” says Nandi, who didn’t work on this campaign but has consulted for Dove in the past. “They have to continuously deepen and show all the various ways that they’re attacking this issue. At this point, the baseline is a pretty crowded space, but when they keep updating their message, it gets so much attention. And every time it illustrates a commitment to this issue.”

Some brands have made great work in a similar vein as “Real Beauty,” like the 2014 hit “Like a Girl” from Always; Under Armour’s award-winning “I Will What I Want” in 2015; or Thinx’s more recent work highlighting menstruation stigmas perpetuated by AI. But Dove has maintained a consistency here that gives its brand more long-term credibility on the issue. This new work just adds yet another layer.

Back in 2018, Dove launched its “No Digital Distortion Mark”—a watermark to signify that photos have not been altered—across all of its static imagery depicting women in print, digital and on social media channels. In 2020, it continued the conversation, publishing studies on media manipulation and its impact on kids’ image of beauty. The next year, “Reverse Selfie” looked at the negative impact of social media on young girls.

For 2022, “Toxic Influence” looked at brand research, which found that two out of three American girls were spending more than an hour each day on social media, and 50% of them said idealized beauty content on social media causes low self-esteem. The short film got mothers and their teen daughters together to talk about what their scrolling habits involve, then showed them some questionable and dangerous beauty advice from deepfaked versions of the moms themselves.


Whenever a new technology or platform catches the culture’s imagination, advertisers are often quick to jump on the bandwagon. Anyone remember the metaverse? Too often marketers can forget the purpose of the technology.

“​​The marketing world often forgets we’re in the people business,” says Rupture’s Chuck Welch. “They confuse the means with the ends. The means are technology, the end is people. The biggest brands on the planet can have all the tech and data they want and still not know how to talk to their audience. It doesn’t mean you know, understand, or address the wants and needs of the audience you’re trying to connect with.”

Dove says it’s here to serve women and girls through every stage of their lives, and this new message reinforces that. “Much like the negative impact of photo editing that we brought to light in our ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ 20 years ago, we believe AI to be an equivalent threat today,” Fernandez says.

AI is such a transformative technology that brands simply talking about using it isn’t innovative—that’s table stakes. However, the real innovation will be the brands that figure out how to use it (or not use it) to best service the wants and needs of their audience.

In Our AI Journey back in March, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman predicted that in the next five years or so AI “will replace 95% of what marketers use agencies, strategists, and creative professionals for today.”

Count Dove out. And Fernandez says the hope is that other brands will follow suit.

“We hope that being the first brand to commit to never using AI to replace or alter real people is one that will inspire other brands to consider as well,” she says. “While we all need to move with culture and technology, we hope other brands will consider the real impact using AI in place of real people can have on beauty standards and self-esteem, especially for the next generation.”