Powerful UGC Film From Dove Calculates the 'Cost of Beauty' for Youth Mental Health

Striving to protect kids online

To jumpstart conversations about social media's impact on youth mental health, Dove released a new film, "Cost of Beauty," which leans into user-generated content. It tells the true story of a young woman struggling with emotional issues around her appearance—exacerbated by experiences online. 

Ogilvy's New York, Toronto and the U.K. offices developed the project for the Unilever brand, in consultation with the National Alliance for Eating Disorders and Project HEAL. The campaign just launched in North America and Europe, with more markets to follow in coming months.

Dove | Cost Of Beauty

Along with generating awareness, the film urges viewers to sign a petition supporting the U.S. Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which seeks to establish standards, safeguards and tools to protect children and limit their exposure to toxic beauty content. Dove is also inviting Canadians to sign and send a pre-written letter to their local MPs via dove.ca/kidsonlinesafety.

Ogilvy global executive creative director Daniel Fisher and agency chief strategy officer Lindsey Gonnella spoke with Muse about the urgency of the project and creating action around this crisis. 

MUSE: How did this project come about?

Daniel Fisher: The project is the latest in a series of films intended to show that what girls see in their social media feeds can affect them. We started with "Reverse Selfie" in 2021. That film looked at the effects of digital distortion and photo filters, while the second, "Toxic Influence," looked at toxic beauty content. This time, we wanted to go a step further and show the impact social media can have on youth mental health and focus a bit more on the stories of girls who are being impacted.

What was the most challenging aspect?

Daniel Fisher: Definitely the casting. Not only did we need to find a girl who had undergone and overcome struggles with her mental health as a result of social media, we needed to find one who had documented even the most difficult parts of this journey. Plus, we had to be sure that she was comfortable with these images being used in this manner. It was a long process but as soon as we came across Mary, we all felt we needed to tell her story.

And what was most rewarding?

Daniel Fisher: We have received loads of messages from parents expressing their gratitude for us shining a light on these issues. In just two weeks, the film has over 19 million views in the U.S. and 20,000 shares on LinkedIn, with people sharing their personal stories related to the topic.

Lindsey Gonnella: Throughout the production and at launch it has been special to see the support from survivors and their families. Their stories move us, and their bravery is powerful. It is humbling that the film has reached so many, and we are grateful to all of the young people for telling their stories, knowing they will help so many.

Where are you with KOSA, and how did that become a main goal?

Lindsey Gonnella: This film was created to bring additional urgency to the crisis, and additional action—asking people to join Dove in signing the petition. It has amassed more than 60,000 signatures since launching two weeks ago.

Who sings "You Are So Beautiful"? Was this rendition made specifically for the film?

Daniel Fisher: Yes. The artist is called, coincidentally, Self Esteem. The track was obviously a fundamental part of the initial idea, so while there was no need for a music search, we always knew we wanted to re-record it with a female artist. We looked at several options and were drawn to Self Esteem's fresh, activist vibe.

Why go the UGC route?

Daniel Fisher: From the get-go, we were adamant we wanted to tell this story using the real footage of a real girl's life. While it would have been much easier to shoot the whole thing, Dove is one of the most authentic brands on the planet, and this [using actors and re-creating scenes] was never an option. The film has an undeniable truth and rawness to it, and that’s what makes it so devastating. These are real stories, real people and the real impact social media is having can’t be ignored. We all need to act.

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