Updated: Jan 3, 2020
Written by: Evan Goodfellow
Dove was facing a period of low sales, when they struck upon a new marketing campaign that touched the hearts of millions.
A Different Message
Having worked for a large corporation for close to 15 years, I would give quarterly presentations to our board in regards to our marketing and sales results. I was frequently surprised when board members would ask questions or provide feedback that was dependent largely upon who they talked to the previous week. Basing decisions off of what so-and-so thought or said can be a dangerous way to run any company whether big or small. However, the opposite is also true, if a company can base decisions on true data and insight of what their customer wants or needs, it can result in unparalleled success. Case in point, in 2004 Dove was suffering from low sales, and an over-saturated market. It was at that time that Unilever, the parent company for Dove decided to come up with a unique marketing campaign called The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.
I remember when this campaign came out, it was a shock in the marketing world. The majority of marketers had presupposed that customers only want to see images of “beautiful” flawless models to promote beauty products. The campaign reminded me that the majority of how things are marketed are based on opinions, and not real data. When you can step back and disconnect from presupposed ideas and connect with your customer the results can be jaw-dropping, as is the case with Dove, who is still using this platform 12 years later and expanding into regions like India with this fresh approach. One of the greatest ways we have found to listen to customers is through qualitative research online communities.
In an article written by Isobel Chiang entitled 10 Years On: Learning from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, the author looks at how Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has become a global effort. The campaign follows the company’s mission which is, “to make women feel more beautiful every day by challenging today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring women to take great care of themselves.” The campaign seeks to challenge society’s view on beauty and cause people to rethink this narrow view. Chiang writes, “put simply, beauty is told rather than felt. A girl is told she is beautiful, and then—and only then—can she feel beautiful herself. This one-way, dictatorial relationship with beauty is precisely what Dove is trying to change.” It is by challenging the norm and seeking to cause society to rethink its view on beauty that causes people to stop and pay attention to the message as well as the messenger.
While the campaign has been seen as a resounding success it has garnered it’s fair share of critics over the years. One of which has to do with the authenticity behind the campaign. Criticism has come as Axe, one of Unilever’s other companies seems, to portray a totally opposite portrait to that of Dove. Axe’s marketing efforts seem to portray a “sexist, retrogressive, and hyper-masculine” approach, according to Chiang. These contradictory views have made some speculate whether Unilever is only using social change as a ploy to sell more products? The question becomes whether a large corporation should seek to tackle such social issues?
Companies and Social Issues
Chiang dissects how Dove was able to tackle such an immense social issue. She writes that one of the key ways Dove was able to gain success and traction on such a large issue was that they never sought to “solve” this issue. Instead, they simply tried to “change” the way people looked at this topic. By trying to change the discussion around the topic of beauty they are not held responsible for living up to the task of solving this issue. They simply become a voice offering a different perspective. Chiang goes on to break down in steps what companies can learn from Dove’s mission.
Don’t overextend yourself – Chiang writes how companies should steer clear of promising to solve a global issue, such as world hunger or poverty. By challenging the dialogue around a topic or problem, the company is not promising to solve it, but by addressing the topic and showing others a different perspective they are able to connect, without having to worry about disappointing. No issue is “too big” – Trying to redefine beauty is an overwhelming task. It’s 12 years later and the company’s campaign is still going strong. The ROI for the campaign has been overwhelming. Chiang writes that for every $1 dollar spent on advertising they have made $3 dollars in sales. They also released a Dove commercial called “Real Beauty Sketches” on YouTube which became the most watched video ad of all time. Dove has created a model for other companies to follow, which is to have companies align with a social issue and start a dialogue and discussion to said topic which can result in social and economic ROI for companies.
A recent article in AdWeek.com looked at how Dove’s ability to connect with their female audience, and challenge the notion of beauty, can be used in new emerging markets such as India. They recently launched a new ad campaign by releasing a short film called, Let’s Break the Rules of Beauty. AdWeek writes how the film “showcases a variety of women whose look and style doesn’t necessarily fit the Indian beauty ideal of “youthful looks, fair skin, long black flowing hair and a trim figure.”
One thing is for certain, following the status quo for marketing and advertising approaches will result in a mediocre ROI. The company that takes the time to find out what their customer truly want, while trying to connect on a deeper level will produce tremendous results. With our ability to access in-depth market research information through MROC’s, or other traditional approaches such as surveys and focus groups, means there should be no reason to accept rumours or guesses in the board room about what our customers want or need. We simply need to ask them, and then make decisions based on the hard data.
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