In 2015, Dove launched its new Dove Choose Beautiful advertising campaign, writing a new chapter to one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever, the Real Beauty campaign that started in 2004. The campaign was groundbreaking: its purpose went beyond promoting its commercial products but aimed at drawing people’s attention to some topical themes. Dove Choose Beautiful, still running, follows the path outlined by the original campaign, questioning the unachievable female beauty canons promoted by the media and encouraging self-esteem and genuine Beauty instead (Austen-Smith et al.).
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Since 2004, the renowned New York-based advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather has been developing a successful mix of print ads, billboards, and videos which raised public attention, generated debates and, ultimately, increased sales.
Understanding the 2004 Real Beauty campaign, its premises, social background, and grounding philosophy is an obligatory path to discuss the Dove Chooses Beautiful marketing strategy. Hence, this paper will offer an in-depth analysis of the Real Beauty campaign in its whole, since its debut to the launch of its last reiteration in 2015. Background of the company, the social scenario revolving around the supermodel-like ideal of female Beauty, and an overview of debates, opinions, and critics aroused by the campaign will be covered.
Dove is a beauty care brand owned by Unilever, a British-Dutch Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) multinational company. Unilever started in the 1880s and currently is the third world largest FMCG organization. Besides Dove, Unilever owns around 400 brands, including Lux, Lipton, and Knorr; in 2016, the company had an estimated revenue for more than 50 billion Euros (Amaral 1). Dove brand debuted in the U.S. in concurrence with the launch of an innovative beauty cleansing bar in 1957. The soap formula included a percentage of cleansing cream, and the advertising campaign highlighted the need for moisturizing the skin to keep the skin hydrated.
The first Dove’s advertising campaign, created by the advertising legend David Ogilvy, set the guidelines for future development of the brand. First, it backed the claim with scientific data, stating that ordinary soap dries the skin (“Vintage Dove Soap Commercial – 1957”). Second, it targeted the self-esteem of women, by suggesting that the cleansing bar would have made them feel free, young, and sexy (Altstiel and Grow 36). Some decades later, in the late 1980s, scientific transparency and Beauty were still the core of the neutral PH advertising campaign. Notably, the focus was slightly shifting towards inner Beauty rather than exterior appearance (Amaral 3).
During the following two decades, products and core advertising messages remained unchanged, resulting in progressive losses of customers and market presence. At the turn of the millennium, sales were stagnating, and rating downgrade loomed on the horizon (Amaral 3). The management understood that strong action was required, triggering a series of events that changed Dove’s perspective on Beauty radically.
Real Beauty Advertising Campaign
In the early 2000s, Unilever commissioned StrategyOne, an applied research firm based in New York, a broad study to explore the global perception and the relations between women, Beauty, and well-being, investigating as well how the ideal of Beauty evolved over the second half of the twentieth century (McCleary 2). The study, called The Real Truth About Beauty was conducted in collaboration with prominent feminist scholars and collected data from interviewing a sample of 3,200 women from ten countries, including U.S., Great Britain, Italy, Brazil, and Japan. The research eventually led to the 2004 Real Beauty campaign, commissioned once again to Ogilvy & Mather. The success was overwhelming and the campaign is still running.
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Real Beauty started as a traditional print and outdoor ad campaign in the U.S., with a series of pictures aimed at arousing questions on the real meaning of Beauty: the images portrayed real women while a tick-box invited the public to vote and discuss the canons of Beauty on Dove’s website. “Grey” or “Gorgeous,” “Fat” or “Fit.” and “Wrinkled” or “Wonderful” were some of the available choices. The second series of print and outdoor ads focused on “real curves”, with messages aimed at emphasizing the variety of feminine Beauty and taking a stand against the size-two supermodels who did not need skin firming products (Amaral 1). After this second phase, the campaign was mainly conducted online.
In 2006, the last and most impacting part of the campaign debuted with Evolution, a video that put the distorted perception of Beauty in the spotlights by showing how an ordinary girl could become a gorgeous model through digital manipulation. The video was awarded many prestigious prizes, including two Cannes Lions Grand Prix awards, becoming one of the most watched videos on YouTube during the first year after the release. In 2007, a new video, Onslaught, revolved around the media bombardment aimed at inculcating unachievable stereotypical beauty canons in young girls, undermining their self-esteem. The video was meant to promote the launch of the Dove Self Esteem Fund, an educational project with the purpose of increasing self-confidence among young women.
In 2008, the campaign Beauty Comes With Age, the fruit of a collaboration with the photographer Annie Leibovitz, portrayed women over 50, with the aim of contrasting the idea that age lowers self-esteem (Aguilar et al. 43). In 2013, Dove released the video Sketches, a social experiment showing that women tend to depict themselves negatively. The women selected for the video were asked to describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist who drew their portraits from the description. Then, the artist sketched another picture of the same woman based on the report of a random stranger. The video was groundbreaking and became viral: it was watched more than 15 million times just in the first week after release (Amaral 5). The current Dove Choose Beautiful campaign debuted in 2015.
Dove Choose Beautiful
The latest reiteration of the Real Beauty campaign was launched on 7 April 2015. It is a four-minutes video shot in San Francisco, Shanghai, Delhi, London and Sao Paulo where women are invited to choose between two juxtaposed doors. One door reads Beautiful, the other one Average. The clip shows that most women prefer the Average door and suggests that they consider the idea of beauty “too far to reach” (“Dove Choose Beautiful,” 00:01:00-00:01:04).
The video has reached more than 10.000.000 visualizations on YouTube. Dove Chose Beautiful explores women’s relationship with Beauty, self-esteem and body image, highlighting how high percentages of women around the globe lack self-confidence (“Dove Choose Beautiful”). The 2015 Dove Choose Beautiful strategy follows the guidelines set by the previous campaigns, depicting real women and urging them to boost their self-esteem.
Success, Reactions, and Critics
Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is an overwhelming success. Besides its proven commercial qualities, the campaign has the merit of challenging the stereotypical canons of Beauty set by beauty industries (Aguilar et al. 42). By urging women to improve their self-confidence, Dove stands up as a champion in defense of women’s identity, and most of the public feels that the brand is supporting a worthwhile social cause (Mustonen 7).
Reactions to the campaign show that Dove stands out for its purpose of empowering women. A further reason that has contributed to the success of the campaign is the use of social media (Mustonen 68). Since 2006, the Real Beauty campaign has been resorting to online advertising and social media, with a broad pool of data available to adapt the campaign to the public’s responses.
Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has raised some negative critics. Some studies argued that Dove appropriated feminist themes to serve consumerism purposes and to the detriment of women (McCleary 2). According to these studies, Dove offered a limited critique of the supermodel beauty canons, transforming feminists ideals in personal goals to sell its products. Other negative reviews showed how Unilever, the owner of Dove brand, holds a blurry position in delivering advertising messages through its brands: Axe, another brand owned by Unilever, has a marked sexist corporate image, where males are sexually dominating (Austen-Smith et al.). This position seems to question transparency and honesty of the other brands within the Unilever group, including Dove.
Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is a long-running advertising campaign that aims at challenging the stereotypes of the feminine image proposed by beauty industries and at urging women to empower themselves by increasing their self-esteem. Since the launch of the campaign in 2004, Dove has been pursuing its objectives through different advertising means, including print and outdoors, and online campaigns.
A series of videos, including Dove Choose Beautiful, has broadly contributed to the success of the campaign, raising interest, reactions, and critics worldwide. Though some negative critics have also aroused, most of the public has a positive perception of the campaign.
Aguilar, Dan Joseph S., et al. “Perception on Dove’s Real Beauty “Sketches” and Level of Self-Esteem: A Correlation”. LPU- Laguna Journal of Arts and Sciences, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 42-54.
Altstiel, Tom, and Jean Grow. Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy, and Design. 4th ed., Sage, 2017.
Amaral, Ana Cristina. Dissertation for Obtaining the Degree of Master in Business Administration. Dissertation, The Lisbon MBA School of Business & Economics, 2017, The Lisbon MBA, 2017.
Austen-Smith, David, et al. “Unilever’s Mission for Vitality“. Case no: KEL 362, Kellog School of Management, Northwestern University, 2017. Web.
“Dove Choose Beautiful.” Dove, n.d. Web.
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“Dove Choose Beautiful.” YouTube, uploaded by Dove US. 2015. Web.
McCleary, Caitlin M.. A Not-So-Beautiful Campaign: A Feminist Analysis of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Dissertation, University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects, 2014. University of Tennessee, 2014.
Mustonen, Tiina. Narratives of Femininity as Means of Promotion: A Case Study on Dove’s Advertisement and Audience Responses. Master’s Thesis, University of Jyväskylä, 2017. University of Jyväskylä, 2017.
“Vintage Dove Soap Commercial – 1957.” YouTube, uploaded by Brandandme. 2011. Web.