In the early oughts (probably 2003), Unilever made an extraordinary discovery. A global research project told them that of the 3200 women they had surveyed, only 64 of them (or 2%) were prepared to call themselves beautiful. Seventy-six per cent of the respondents wanted the idea of beauty to change.
Unilever decided to make itself that change agent:
The Dove mission is to widen the definition of beauty. The Campaign for Real Beauty is based on a belief that beauty comes in different shapes, sizes, ages and that real beauty can be genuinely stunning. (Verkade in Lichti, below)
The Dove campaign for Real Beauty launched in 2004.
Yesterday, I talked about the Dove campaign…because Virginia Postrel had done so. But in truth I had wanted to talk about this campaign for a long time.
After all, the Dove campaign for real beauty is a great example of marketing that works with contemporary culture, not against it. Dove was prepared to capture the tremendous energy coming off a trend that many brands just looked through or tried to work around. In point of fact, ideas of femaleness had been "under review" and deeply contested in our society at least since the ideas of Susan B. Anthony. The tide had come and gone several times by 2003 and now it appeared to be prepared to transform our culture’s most fundamental ideas of what beauty is.
Brands that surf culture have to choose their moment with exquisite timing. If they are a moment too soon, they look like reckless "kooks" way out ahead of the trend. The brand will pay for it. The brand manager’s career will pay for it. On the other hand, if they wait too long, they are going to look like johnnies-come-lately playing me-too marketing. March can be too early and May too late. April is the sweet spot between ridicule and scorn.
We can’t know what was going on within Dove, but we may assume that Unilever marketers were monitoring several diverse developments in contemporary culture, everything from the Boston "our bodies, ourselves" collective founded in 1970 to Anna Nicole Smith, the voluptuous celebrity who died tragically in 2007 through the TV show Sex in the City. (We can’t say that the head’s up came from the 2003 research project. Something had to inspire the project.)
But the moment that Dove decided to get on board was the moment that the trend took on an extraordinary ally. Using the creative talent at the brand’s disposal and the deep pockets at Unilever, there was now a mainstream champion of a new definition of beauty. At some point, Oprah came on board. The fitness studio Curves was established. Special K got in on the action. (We must hope for a clarifying history here.) And before very long, the beauty hegemony of Vogue and the Hollywood Studio was being challenged. A nascent, distributed, but deeply unofficial unhappiness with beauty concepts suddenly was given a voice and a profile.
There is a bargain at work here, a trade. In order to get access to the power and the authenticity of the new beauty movement, Dove makes available its marketing cunning and check book. To get access to Dove’s cunning and check book, the trend makes available its power and authenticity. Intellectuals are fond of talking about how capitalism corrupts culture, but this bargain looks like a pretty good one. Both parties prosper.
Seven branding lessons of the Dove campaign
1. Survey the world. Get to know the culture.
2. Discover the trend or the impulse that could serve the brand.
3. Assess the downside risks to which the brand is exposed.
4. Establish a time table that shows the growth of the trend.
5. Establish the moment to get in.
6. Partner with the enthusiasts of the trend.
7. Make your move (repeat steps 1 through 6)
Anonymous. n.d., History of Our Bodies Ourselves and the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. here.
Clegg, Alicia. 2005. Dove Gets Real. Brandchannel.com. April 18, 2005. here.
Lichti, Shirley. 2006. Dove Campaign reflects a beautiful strategy. The Record. June 21, 2006. here.
McMains, Andrew. 2007. $70 mil. Weight Watchers in Play. Adweek. February 14, 2007. here. [The Watchers went into play today, with $70 million at stake, and WPP Group’s Young and Rubicam the incumbent. Dove will has changed the landscape in which the winning agency and this brand must work.]
Piper, Tim, Yael Staav, Mark Wakefield, Sharon MacLeod, Stephanie Hurst. 2005. Dove Film. as posted on YouTube, September 5, 2005. here. [This short film appears to compile clips from ethnographic interviews with girls 7-17 roughly. Captures the pressures on young women to lose weight.]
Traister, Rebecca. 2005. "Real beauty" — or really smart marketing. Dove has a worthy new ad campaign that tells women to embrace their curves. Too bad they’re hawking cellulite cream. Salon. July 22, 2005. here.