Whatever the intention, Baby Dove's new campaign is validating bigots

By trying to encourage debate, Baby Dove is legitimising ethically and legally questionable views, writes Jules McKeen.

Somewhere in the bowels of 10 Downing Street this morning, Mrs May sat enjoying her cuppa – a little weak she thought, making a mental note to upbraid Philip – while flicking through the dailies.

Turning the page to an ad for Baby Dove, she allowed herself the smallest of small smiles; it was not, as it transpired, she alone who was capable of forcing a vote on the general public which would result in staggering levels of self-sabotage and ridicule from the very people the campaign sought to attract.

So it is that we turn our attention to the ad in question, asking the public (presumably intended for – oh yes – new mothers) "What’s your way" in response to their "statistics", ergo: "75% say breastfeeding in public is fine. 25% say put them away."

Leaving the grammar to one side for a moment (it’s not like we’re in the communication business or anything), women around Britain gasp. We turn to each other, imagining the situation in the brainstorm where someone confidently asserted, "We need to start a debate, yeah? You know, be provocative. That’s what they’ll love. You know, some people just hate women getting their tits out. Puts me right off my coconut butter latte."

We hang our heads as we imagine how a brand like Dove, which has put itself out there as a supporter of women’s bodies, thinks this is how they’ll promote their brand.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how the minute one puts up two statistics side by side like this, it seeks validation for both? Often, it’s really best not to posit one totally unacceptable point of view against one which your target audience will all believe is normal and natural.

Try imagining this ad around other issues: "25% of bigots think women belong in the kitchen. Do you agree?" or perhaps "35% of the DUP think women should be forced to bury their aborted foetuses. Do you agree?" By setting up this false opposition, Dove validates the bigot.

It’s as if the team behind it forgot that if you try to "start a debate", it needs to be a debate which actually happens, and which will be relevant and interesting to the target audience: in this case, new parents.

New parents of either gender who happen not to breastfeed don’t go around wondering why women are flashing their breasts in Costa.

This ad isn’t even about breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, both perfectly viable options which in four years running a post-natal clothing brand, I tried extremely hard to prevent any judgment around – this is about making mothers who happen to breastfeed feel more judged, more embarrassed, and ultimately less likely to continue breastfeeding their babies.

Perhaps, Dove would prefer them to simply stay home for the year, the vulgar harpies with their breasts for milk, not just for pleasure.

Secondly – and it’s a small point, but nonetheless worth making – it’s against the law to ask women not to breastfeed in public. The actual law.

The Equality Law of 2010 was brought in to stop owners of cafes and shops from forcing women to take their hungry screaming baby, perhaps ideally with a two-year-old, a buggy and four bags in tow for maximum shame and pain, into a toilet cubicle for 40 minutes to feed him. This also applies to public areas, parks and services.

So what "debate" exactly is this ad trying to start? Do we want to see people harassing breastfeeding mothers? Or simply, to add another layer of judgment and fear upon women already strung out on new motherhood and a lack of sleep and identity?

Perhaps a change in the law, which Dove could ask May to add to the mooted reformation of the fox hunting bill, to take us back a couple of decades? It really was awesome for women back then so hey, why not?

However, we really shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, so I have an idea: let’s recycle the ad to a geography who will find this farcically artificial "debate" that elusive thing; relevant and interesting.

My suggestion is Washington; I understand they’re simply crying out over there for more opportunities to make women’s bodies the property of the state.

Jules McKeen is an entrepreneur and mentor at Techstars

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