How Dove, Getty Images and Girl Gaze United to Create a Commercial Image Bank Featuring Real Women

  Agency, Corporate

Dove recently partnered with Getty Images and Girl Gaze to create Project #ShowUs, the world’s first inclusive picture library of women in order to break beauty stereotypes. Some 900 global companies have gone on to use the resource, but launching it was not without its challenges.

“It’s really important to us that the work we do is not superficial,” says Dove’s global vice president, Sophie Galvani.

Sitting with Getty Image’s senior director of creative insights, Rebecca Swift, at the Cannes Lions festival, Galvani is excited having just discovered that the campaign has won Silver in the Glass Lions category, but adamant that the work that went into creating the project over the last 18 months was not done just to win awards.

“This is what we call ‘a brand do’ at Dove — when you are doing something and those things take longer than overnight to create,” she explains.

Project Show Us developed a 5,000+ strong image archive that features photography by female professionals, found through the Girl Gaze network, of women who haven’t been exposed to post-production alterations. The images are available to any brand, for a fee, to use in advertising campaigns.

The idea originally came from Publicis Sapient’s VP senior group creative director, John Antoniello, who flew to the New York to pitch the idea to the brand.

“I remember him flying in and starting to present the idea and he had this big sell-in deck with all of the idea and we said,  ‘We’re going to do this immediately’ — because we got how big an idea it was and how game-changing it would be,” recalls Galvani.

“But we knew if we were going to do it we couldn’t do it by ourselves on Dove, we didn’t have a load of photographers to take the photographs like Girl Gaze and we didn’t have a platform to put the photos on like Getty [Images]. So, we knew they would be perfect as one of the biggest platforms in the world for distributing images.”

Following this positive response, Antoniello approached Getty Images and Girl Gaze founder Amanda de Cadanet to get them on board.

“We were in straightaway — it was a no brainer,” said Swift. “John met our chief executive [Dawn Airey] to begin with and they came back from that meeting and asked what I thought and it was something I had been thinking about anyway because it is well known that the photographic industry as a whole doesn’t have enough women in it. I knew that having been in it for so long, and I knew also that our customers, globally, were talking about authenticity and realism and all those words that get bandied about and this seemed like the perfect collaboration, really.”

Overcoming obstacles

But it faced challenges, including within Unilever’s procurement team, which needed to be convinced.

“We had to sign 13 legal contracts to be able to do this between all parties. Usage rights, making sure that we are paying the photographers correctly in terms of the amount of money, and what happens if someone like Coca-Cola comes along and uses one of the images in one of their campaigns, which they can; we have to make sure that everyone is being paid fairly. That took an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work,” says Galvani.

“Getty [Images] really helped us with what the main search terms were in India or China when it came to stock images. There’s no point in us creating an image bank that nobody wants to use, so we had to make sure that it was commercial as well … it has to work. We had to create something that was going to work featuring images that people were searching for and they would want to buy.”

Swift reveals the mindset change that was needed among the photographers who were recruited for the shoots, as well:

“They had to think about how to create interactions and to think conceptually what they were shooting. A lot of the women who came from Girl Gaze were journalistic in terms of their approach to photography, so switching them into advertising and brand photography was quite a big part of what we had to do. Then we had to write 39 briefs for 39 countries and translate them into languages — it was a massive undertaking.”

There was also the issue of understanding the different beauty stereotypes across various countries, including Morocco and Nigeria, which led to the 116 photographers’ being consulted on how expected image tropes could be inverted. That has included learning local search terminology and matching the correct photographers to each shoot.

The logistics behind the secrecy of Project #ShowUs

Galvani reveals that the creation of the image bank was referred to as “Project Djuna” internally, named after novelist and artist Djuna Barnes, within Dove, because Getty Images was also working with a brand competitor. “There was a lot of movement in the industry where a photographer might shoot with Gillette, for example, so we couldn’t tell anyone because, not that someone would say something purposefully, but they might let something slip.”

Girl Gaze also had to build a jobs platform to source local photographers from all around the world, which still exists post-launch and will continue to be used by the organization.

Over a year later, the project was ready to launch (in April) with 5,000 images ready to distribute from over 3,000 women who had signed up. The decision was then made that image use would be paid-for rather than available for free in order to pay the photographers fairly.

“We decided that the images had to be paid-for because these have got value in the market place — you can’t just say that we are going to give them away for free. Photographers have to get paid properly. Women have to get paid, which they haven’t. We will kick-start this but it should be self-serving, it should be a business model.” says Galvani.

“The bit that we’re doing that will give it longevity is we’re going to invest the money we make back into the photographic community so we can keep this going,” adds Swift.

After two months, the bank has received over 7,250 downloads across 40 markets from over 900 companies, with an ambition to increase the number of images made available going forward.

Selecting purpose

The topic of brand purpose was regularly discussed during Cannes Lions this year, not least by Unilever’s own chief executive, Alan Jope, who called out faux discussion by companies appearing to claim a higher need for their products, a claim he described as “woke washing.”

Asked about this term emanating from her boss, Galvani explains how Dove measures its own purpose of generating self-esteem among women, a project it began 15 years ago, working with the University of the West of England to document its work.

“It’s really important to us that the work we do is not superficial. We have educated 35 million girls in self-esteem and body confidence, that is externally audited by PwC to make sure that that is correct and that we are making a positive impact,” she continues, adding that the work with Unicef will see it aim to enter countries such as Brazil, India and Indonesia to reach 10 million young women through digital communications to increase their self-esteem.

“We take it really seriously,” she adds, before discussing the frustration Dove feels around the lack of awareness that its initiatives creates.

“You know immediately what to align the brand with,” she responds when asked how the company knows which initiatives it should align with.

“Our challenge is to make the positivity of beauty available for all women — and one of the brand do’s that we have for that is educating the next generation to help them grow up with a positive perception of how they look. But the other side of it, quite recently, is that we want to make sure that that is happening to women. We have been putting diverse women into our campaigns for 60 years, then the ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ has been going for 15 years; this project just came to us and it’s really deep.

“It’s one thing to say that Dove is putting diverse women in their campaigns — great — but we want everyone to be doing it and that’s why when we saw this we knew it was a much bigger resource for everyone and that it was getting to the root source of the problem — which is if Coca-Cola or Gillette or Nike want to use diverse imagery, if the Daily Mail wants to or Hearst magazines want to — they have to go into image banks, and we want to make sure that those are diverse to allow it to happen. We knew that this was systemic change.”

A number of major companies have pledged to back Project #ShowUs: Spotify, Colgate, Mastercard, CBS, National Basketball Association, CSM LeadDog, Merkle, Vidcom, Alma DDB, Sprinklr, Mindshare, News Corp, Ogilvy, Droga5, New York Times, IPG, Danone, You & Mr Jones, Wunderman Thompson, Diagio, The Martin Agency, Esprit, 29 Horas, DDB, Diageo and Publicis Sapient.

For a more inclusive look at beauty, explore the entire Project #ShowUs collection. 

This article was written by Stephen Lepitak from The Drum and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to