Disruption, The Emotional Appeal, And Branding As A Vehicle For Social Change

Inside Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

Dove has been an iconic brand in health and beauty for over 50 years. Its unique selling proposition – a bar of soap that doesn’t dry out your skin like other soaps, because it’s one quarter moisturizing cream, separated the brand from competitors. This claim, complimented by a national media buy, catapulted the brand into households across North America. The functional benefit built the Dove brand into an icon, and placed the product in a number of consumer’s evoked set of beauty products.

As time passed, Dove’s competitive advantage – it’s formula of one-quarter moisturizer and three quarters soap – began to erode. Competitors encroached on the claim, launching similar products and weakening the functional appeal of the product. The cleansing cream campaign was no longer enough to win the hearts and wallets of consumers. The brand needed to pivot to stay relevant.

At the same time, parent company Unilever’s portfolio of personal care items had grown far beyond its iconic time-tested bar of soap. It needed a new, integrated international strategy for the Dove brand; one that could unite the dove product line under one master brand with a unified voice and message. The initiative gave rise to the Dove Real Beauty campaign, a campaign that broke free of convention, disrupted the beauty industry, and started a movement for social change.

Disruption

There are a lot of buzzwords in the world of marketing and disruption slots perfectly into that category. That doesn’t mean the concept is without merit. The idea of breaking through the noise and clutter of consumer facing communication while simultaneously catching your industry and competitors off guard is a pretty enticing business scenario. The reality is however, that it is all too uncommon that a brand or a company manages to be innovative enough to achieve such a level of disruption.

Early in the campaign, the "Tix Box' billboards challenged consumers to revaluate their perceptions of beauty.

Early in the campaign, the “Tix Box’ billboards challenged consumers to revaluate their perceptions of beauty.

When Dove launched the Real Beauty campaign it was responding to a highly competitive market and a weakening brand identity. Key competitors like Nivea, Neutrogena, and Olay were turning a profit on an array of products that promised to make you feel beautiful – a selling proposition every beauty product was boasting. To stand out as a brand Dove had to find a new message, one that could resonate with its audience and weaken the claims of its competitors. That was the brilliance behind Real Beauty.

As a beauty brand by definition, Dove’s strategy boldly turned its back on convention. Here is a beauty brand adamantly defying the industry and society’s accepted standard of beauty. Here is a beauty brand downplaying the need for beauty products. Here is a beauty brand telling you you’re already beautiful. Here is a beauty brand being disruptive.

The Emotional Appeal

The Real Beauty campaign had a lot of brilliant benefits to its message, but one of the most underrated aspects of the campaign was its competitive advantage. Dove was selling beauty products while telling women they didn’t need their competitors’ products to feel beautiful. If it couldn’t directly capture market share from Olay or Neutrogena, it could shrink the size of the cosmetic market its competitors operated in all together, all by using an emotional appeal.

'Dove Real Beauty Sketches' did wonders to communicate the campaigns message of the diminished self-esteem and skewed perceptions of self felt by many women. Watch the adhere" width="0" height="0" /> 'Dove Real Beauty Sketches' did wonders to communicate the campaigns message of the diminished self-esteem and skewed perceptions of self felt by many women. Watch the adhere

‘Dove Real Beauty Sketches’ emotional appeal did wonders to communicate the campaign’s message of the diminished self-esteem and skewed perceptions of self felt by many women. Watch the ad here

It was this emotional appeal that drove the brand above and beyond its commodity-like status. It stood for something, and purchasing its products was representative of your values and beliefs. In a sense, by buying Dove you were supporting a movement, and that was pretty empowering for a lot of consumers. The emotionally charged buying behaviours that emerged forged a connection with the brand that wasn’t easily broken. It inspired brand advocates and sparked a conversation in society that had been muzzled by the beauty industry for years. The industry and its operators were exposed, and not even Dove was safe from the ugly side of the conversation.

A Vehicle for Social Change

Perhaps the most intriguing result of the Dove Real Beauty campaign was the attention it brought to a societal issue: our perception of beauty and the impact it has on our self-esteem. The driving force behind an international conversation challenging the status quo wasn’t an advocacy group or a politician; it was a brand.

In 2014, Dove's "Beauty Patch" campaign drew the ire of many consumers. Critics claimed the messages insulted women's intelligence, rather than bolstering their self esteem. Watch the ad here

In 2014, Dove’s “Beauty Patch” advertisement drew the ire of many consumers. Critics claimed the message insulted women’s intelligence rather than bolstering their self esteem. Watch the ad here

At times the conversation grew so loud it threatened to overshadow the brand and campaign, even drawing its own backlash and criticism. The authenticity of the message was often the target of critics. How could Unilever, Dove’s parent company, be promoting a message of empowerment while simultaneously running conceivably misogynistic campaigns for its AXE brand?

Often times the conversation was diminished by its roots. It was a marketing campaign after all. It was trying to sell you something. It couldn’t be trusted. But the early stages of the Real Beauty campaign didn’t use any product placements, despite many prominent marketing experts’ objections.

Additionally, Dove didn’t shy away from the conversation or criticism. It actively participated in the discussion, and encouraged the conversation further, standing by its message. It responded to articles, comments, and questions; which in turn challenged the assertion that the campaign’s sole existence was to sell you a product.

Final Thoughts

Dove's "Call for Dad" advertisement for its Men+Care line of products got over 13 million views on YouTube.

Dove’s “Call for Dad” advertisement for its Men+Care line of products got over 13 million views on YouTube. Watch the ad here

The brand’s strategy is still heavily debated, and its results are mixed. While some analysts point to Dove as one North America’s top brands and credit the campaign to millions of dollars in added revenue, still others continue to question its motives and longevity. Ultimately, the rebranding efforts allowed the company to launch new product lines under a unified message, including Dove Men+Care, a new line of men’s products aimed at the segment of fathers, husbands, and brothers who supported the Real Beauty campaign’s messaging.

Dove’s Real Beauty branding campaign will continue to be a subject of discussion and a case study for the books; a shining example of how much more a brand can do than simply sell you something.


Sources

Bahadur, N. (01, 21 2014). Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign Turns 10: How A Brand Tried To Change The Conversation About Female Beauty. Retrieved 28 2016, 02, from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/21/dove-real-beauty-campaign-turns-10_n_4575940.html

Deighton, J. (2008, 03 25). Dove: Evolution of a Brand . Harvard Business Review .

Neff, J. (2014, 04 14). Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ Hits A Rough Patch. Retrieved 02 29, 2016, from Advertising Age: http://adage.com/article/news/dove-s-real-beauty-hits-a-rough-patch/292632

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2 Responses to Disruption, The Emotional Appeal, And Branding As A Vehicle For Social Change

  1. magdalenasipari says:

    Really great points made! I remember when Dove first launched their Really Beauty campaign, and to me it seemed like finally there was a brand talking about what all women were feeling. However, you made a good point there: it was a marketing campaign after all and it was trying to sell something, so how could it be trusted? What Dove did right, was to answer to the criticism and actively standing behind its message and showed, that it wasn’t only about selling a product. I’m curious to see what Dove will do over the next year, and how it will try to fight against the criticism and keep loyal to their brand image.

  2. Anni E. says:

    Great post about a campaign that has been very interesting to follow for years now. I think you made some clearly structured and well-supported points about the campaign, such as how disruptive it really was (and is) in terms of criticising the industry while simultaneously being a part of it.

    A Unilever representative has actually explained that “Young men, like women, frequently suffer from poor self-esteem, lack of confidence and poor body image. Our advertising in primarily designed to give them a boost of confidence”, referring to the Axe/Lynx ads. So in a sense they are trying to boost each individual audience’s self-esteem, just in very different ways. Both the 1990s hypersexualization of women and the modern orientation towards gender equality are still somewhat present at the same time, which surely is an interesting combination. I, too, am very eager to see where Unilever’s campaigns will evolve in the future!

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