In October, our creative director Laurie Hix mourned the passing of Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign. For seven years, Dove had celebrated women with body fat, freckles, wrinkles, gray hairs, and other “flaws.” In the first two months of the campaign, Dove’s U.S sales increased by 600 percent, illustrating the immense power of brands that know how to market to women.
When Dove shifted gears and started producing spots with sassy, skinny women soaping up in the shower, Laurie wrote, “It seemed like all the progress they made just evaporated.”
Well, it seems Dove got the message. If the company was seeking redemption with its new video, it has succeeded in spades. The film instantly went viral, with almost 3.5 million views as I write this. A 6.5-minute version has gotten almost half a million views. And while I’m at it, Dove’s Facebook page has more than 13.7 million likes, which blows competition like Olay’s 1.6 million likes away.
The video portrays women who’ve been partnered with a stranger for reasons unknown to them. After spending some time together, each subject goes into a sunny loft and describes herself to a forensic artist. The artist is separated from the subjects by a screen and draws their images based on the subjects’ descriptions only. Next, the partner describes this same woman to the artist. Then the subjects come and view their two sketches side-by-side. Invariably, the self-described portrait looks heavy, unattractive, and downright melancholy compared with the prettier pictures made with input from the strangers.
As the women view their sad self-images, their faces fall. One of them even cries. I must admit, when I watched it, I teared up, too.
The message at the film’s end, accompanied by quiet piano music, is, You are more beautiful than you think.
I’m excited by Dove’s return to its Real Beauty roots for a couple reasons:
Such a quick reversal might indicate that Dove’s sales fell when they started using conventionally beautiful models instead of women who were both beautiful and (take your pick) short, flat-chested, overweight, or older. This shows that a cultural shift has indeed happened. In addition, a powerful branding phenomenon has happened. Dove spent years carefully and even lovingly building a brand around this idea of real beauty. They sent positive messages in both their advertising and their products like the lotion they named Pro-Age instead of Anti-Wrinkle.
That’s why women felt so connected to the Dove brand—and why they may have stopped buying when the Real Beauty ended.
The Expansion of Advertising
These videos (you can choose between a 1.5 minute version, a 3-minute one, and a 6.5-minute one) are not commercials. They are films, with a narrative arc, beautiful art direction, and a real emotional impact. (Have any of your Facebook friends shared the video with the comment, “This made me cry?” Several of mine have.)
Dove isn’t pushing product here. They don’t even mention a product, or the Dove name, other than a brief flash of the logo at the end. Yet the impact on the brand is massive.
This shows me just how powerful it can be to think both outside the box and in long-range terms when you’re molding a brand. If we’re brave, genuine, and give our target audience—women—what they really want, we can achieve big, big things.
When Dove does a more conventional soap sell, as Laurie pointed out, it looks just like its competitors. It’s when the product takes a step back—and lets the beauty of real women shine—that the brand really stands out.
I hope the instant success of this video encourages Dove to stick to its guns—to connect to women in a unique, respectful, and beautifully real way. In short, to make an emotional connection.
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