Under the Influence

Dove product poster in-store shows soap, shampoo etc and the logo

Our favourite show on CBC radio is, without a doubt, Under the Influence with Terry O’Reilly. It used to be called Age of Persuasion. In a recent rerun (the show is on summer hiatus) Terry told a story that was so moving and well, influential, I’m going to paraphrase for you.

It’s ironic that a show about marketing appears on the country’s ad-free radio network. But it concerns more than just ads. While Terry dissects and explains the goals and results of ad campaigns, he gives them background and context with loads of insider information

Advertising in every era is also about pop culture, psychology, politics, and art. I’ve always loved advertising as a form of expression, even going so far as to love the ads I hate for the reasons I hate them. I find the whole industry fascinating and I’ve devoted a big chunk of my career to voicing radio and TV ads for markets big and small, and still do. (My next national ad voice-over is for Capital One, launching in October.)

The story Terry told was about Dove‘s switch from using airbrushed models (like every other beauty brand) to photographing real women to show, “real beauty”. It’s a legendary campaign that’s made me loyal to Dove so I know it worked without knowing sales figures or focus group results. The story goes that the company’s new ad agency attempted to convince Dove’s executives, all men, to make this change in approach. They said it would speak to women and their body image issues. It would make Dove seem real in a world of fakery. But the execs didn’t see it and said no. What the admen and women did next was pure genius.

They contacted the executives’ daughters and interviewed them about body image and their perceptions of perfect-looking models. The young women talked about how those unrealistic, unattainable depictions of beauty made them feel about themselves. In a nutshell: not good. Then the agency showed the interview video to the executives. Seeing their own daughters explain the effect of airbrushed models on their self-images worked. The execs finally understood. It was brilliant.

Terry shares so many compelling stories about ad campaigns we all know and love or loathe, as well as others we’ve never heard of, for good reason. Terry’s own ad work has had a major influence on Canadian and worldwide advertising. As an adman for more than three decades, he created scads of major campaigns and won loads of major awards. He’s an author, speaker, and he records the show in an Airstream trailer. How cool is that?

Is it obvious that I’m a fan?!

Listen to past shows here: Under the Influence.

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