by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Sphelele Mjadu, Unilever Personal Care senior PR manager for Africa, talks us through the beauty product’s groundbreaking project, Dove’s Project #ShowUs, from inspiration to execution — and beyond. She also shares key insights specific to the female consumer market in South Africa.

Q5: Let’s begin with the basics: what was the objective of this campaign, and what inspired the creative solution?
Sphelele Mjadu: The objective of the #ShowUs campaign was for Dove to take another milestone step to combat unhelpful beauty stereotypes and empower women everywhere, so that their beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety. Project #ShowUs is pioneering because it looks to challenge existing unhelpful beauty stereotypes at their source by providing more-representative images to the media and advertising industries, in the form of a bank of over 5 000 images, in a bid to ultimately help women everywhere. Dove conducted a global study that reveals that 70% of women around the world say they still don’t feel represented in the images they see every day, and thus [we] identified a need to begin a movement for change.

Dove Project #ShowUs key visual

Q5: Logistically, how was the campaign coordinated and managed? What did it entail?
The campaign required extensive coordination with and by all partners involved in order to be successful. Dove worked closely with the Girlgaze network of photographers, Getty and agency partners from around the world to ensure that this went smoothly.

Key points include:

  • A year in the making, the Project #ShowUs library features more than 5000 photographs
  • Every image [was] shot by one of 116 Girlgaze photographers representing a diverse global community of women, non-binary and female-identifying photographers
  • The images feature individuals from 39 countries and counting — each image created by women and non-binary photographers, who understand the beauty landscape of that country, for a more-authentic, hyper-local and inclusive representation of beauty
  • For the first time on Getty Images, every individual of the 179 photographed has personally defined their own search descriptions and tags for their images, allowing them to define their beauty in their own language [and] on their own terms, ensuring they feel realistically represented
  • The images embrace the Dove No Digital Distortion policy and are an unapologetically inclusive vision of beauty

Q5: Tell us more about the research that backed up the #ShowUs campaign?
Dove commissioned a study known as the “Dove Impact of Beauty Stereotypes Quant Study 2019”. The research was conducted on behalf of Dove by Edelman Intelligence, a specialist applied research company, between December 2018 and February 2019, with 9 027 women aged 18–64 in 11 countries: the UK, US, Canada, France, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, China, Japan, India and Russia. Global and regional results were [collated] across various issues faced by women and their current views of representation in the media landscape.

Dove Project #ShowUs Stop The Stereotypes
Click/tap to enlarge.

Local data revealed the following about how women feel about representation by the media and advertising industries in South Africa (among other key findings):

  • 8 in 10 (82%) South African women wish media and advertisers did a better job of portraying women of diverse appearance, including age, race, shape and size
  • Three quarters (75%) of SA women say that pressure from media and advertising drives anxiety around appearance and beauty in general
  • 8 in 10 (84%) SA women say that if everyday media images were more representative of the way most women in the country looked, then women would feel better about themselves
  • Better representation can also have a positive impact on girls. 8 in 10 (82%) SA women say that this would enable girls to grow up without feeling that they are being judged just on their looks and 8 in 10 (76%) believe that it would mean that girls were not held back by gender stereotypes

Q5: Do campaigns like these impact sales, or is that not the objective in this case?
Dove is committed to making a positive experience of beauty available for all women. We do this both by taking concrete actions towards ensuring that representations of beauty are more-inclusive, -representative and -diverse for all women. Additionally, through programmes like our Dove Self Esteem Project, we aim to instill a culture of positive self-esteem among young people, because we recognise the role confidence and self-esteem can play in helping one reach [one’s] full potential. We also make quality products that deliver on their promises accessible to women all over the world.

While we are a beauty brand, we have always been committed to widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty through all of our campaigns. We truly believe profit and purpose can work well together with the right balance, to ultimately achieve beauty that cares. We are really proud to have a brand that delivers on wider societal benefit, and our business mandate.

Q5: The advertising industry still has a lot of work to do in the arena of diversity and inclusivity (of all kinds). What can organisations like yours do to accelerate positive change with your commercial partners like ad agencies?
SM: We have created the Project #ShowUs image bank for all media, agencies and advertisers across the globe, whether they work with Unilever or not, making it possible for everyone to represent women [who] are more realistic and relatable. We work closely with and encourage our agency partners to take the lead in embracing this change.

We believe that anyone who has a role in creating, distributing and selecting imagery at any level and in any industry has the ability — and responsibility — to better represent the diverse audiences they are speaking to. We take this responsibility extremely seriously and believe that representation, inclusion and diversity are important both in the frame and behind the lens because, for too long, media and advertising industries have communicated rigid beauty ideals that create a narrow definition of women that results in all kinds of anxieties in women about how they look.

By creating more of these images, and making them easier to find, we are encouraging creatives around the world to use these more forward-looking pictures in their projects. The more we can get these images seeding the media landscape, the more quickly these concepts become normalised.

Women everywhere can also actively participate in the campaign and demand that the industry #ShowUs more women like [them] by contributing to the image bank at


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her new regular column “Q5” aims to hone in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with experts in media, marketing and design.

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