Dove Campaign for Real Beauty: A Case Study in Defining What You Stand Against

by Kirsten Nelson on April 9, 2013

Kirsten Nelson · How to Increase Sales · April 09, 2013

Dove, the beauty supply company owned by Unilever, has gained a lot of traction since launching its worldwide Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004. The campaign has featured video, advertisements, workshops as well as the publication of a book and production of a play. The very nature of this campaign thumbs its nose at the norms of popular beauty marketing messages.

Dove Real Beauty Campaign

The Dove campaign features women of all shapes, colors and sizes, and seeks to shift beauty stereotypes in Western society. As anyone who has even glanced at fashion or cosmetics advertisements already knows, these are false ideals of beauty that the majority of the population will never achieve, even if every woman had her own personal trainer, dietician, makeup artist (and Photoshop expert).

Instead of following the traditional mantra of beauty-marketing campaigns that promote an unattainable standard of attractiveness as the norm, Dove’s campaign has taken a stand against an issue that affects the lives of millions of women, young and old: self-perception in the face of advertisements that don’t reflect the reality of women’s appearances. Dove is saying that it’s okay to be normal, and that you’re not lesser-than for not being what certain advertisers consider to be perfect. Dove’s efforts have been eye-opening for many (and profitable for Dove—generating double digit growth in 2005).

Two Pendulum-related concepts show why this marketing campaign has become so successful. First, it appeals to the “We” cycle values  and the need for connection and finding strength and acceptance in community.

The second, more powerful, Pendulum-related concept at play here is the way Dove has defined what it stands against in this campaign. Dove says that it is standing against the outmoded and limiting Western concept of beauty that considers ultra-thin models with so-called “perfect” features to be the zenith of womanly attraction.

Let’s break the Campaign for Beauty down, showing fives ways that it defines What You Stand Against (WYSA):

WYSA Factor #1.    What does your audience need? This is the most important part of the puzzle. Once you know what your audience needs, you’ll be able to craft your message, products and services to solve your audience’s problems.

Dove clearly is meeting its customers’ felt needs to consider themselves beautiful and to feel accepted. Women, even young girls, become hyperaware of their appearance and their ability or inability to meet prevalent societal standards of beauty.

WYSA Factor #2.    What’s your differentiating factor? What is unique about your product or service?

Dove wasn’t touting a revolutionary lotion formula with its campaign. Its product formulas didn’t change. And its lotions and creams are much like those of its competitors. The differentiating factor is in the positioning of the product. Dove isn’t selling soap. It is selling acceptance and recognition of beauty in women just as they are. Increased sales of soap and related products are the results of this affirmation of normality in women’s appearances.

WYSA Factor #3.    How do you stand apart from your competition? What do you do or offer that is different from your competitors? Let your audience know how what your offer will fill its needs.

While the fashion industry was still considering that a size-8 model was “plus size,” Dove definitely stood apart from its competition by featuring models of all sizes, boldly asserting that ultrathin is not a requirement for beauty. Dove created a community that was based on acceptance and appreciation of beauty in all its shapes and sizes. Few beauty-based companies have done that, and none to the extent that Dove has.  

WYSA Factor #4.    Are you generous with your content? When you freely share all your best content, you will automatically set yourself apart from your competition. It will build a level of trust and respect with your audience and people will view you as the go-to resource on the subject at hand.

Dove Self-Esteem CampaignDove created an entire resource center devoted to helping women and young girls build self-esteem. Could they have charged for these workshops, guides, activities and videos? Perhaps. But they offered it free of charge with no strings attached. Not even a request for an email address.

WYSA Factor #5.   Does branding reflect your WYSA? Is your visual branding congruent with the things you stand against? For example, if your company stands against global warming and your website shows a picture of you driving your gas-guzzling SUV, your branding is out of alignment with your WYSA.

This is one area where Dove received some criticism. Congruence of company messaging with company actions is vital to building a loyal tribe of customers. Unilever, Dove’s parent company owns several other brands that don’t align with its “Real Beauty” campaign: AXE, a product that hypersexualizes women;  SlimFast, which benefits from the stereotype of thinness being a defining feature of beauty, and Fair and Lovely, a skin-lightening product that is marketed to dark-skinned women in several countries.

Dove’s marketing was also incongruent with current attitudes when, during the second phase of its campaign, it promoted skin-firming lotions to “reduce cellulite.” While cellulite reduction is meeting the felt need of many women, that need is a result of those marketing stereotypes that campaigns such as Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty were standing against. This incongruence violates the values of a “We” cycle, which demands authenticity and transparency and it undermined the power of Dove’s message. Critics questioned Dove’s integrity and motivations behind this campaign, asserting that Dove’s ads “subtly reinforce stereotypes they claim to be exposing.”

 In spite of falling down on the fifth factor of a solid WYSA statement, Dove’s campaign is nevertheless a success. Dove connected with its customers, offered a solution to its customers’ felt need, created a community by being boldly different from the competition and by freely sharing its content.

WYSA-book image I want to challenge you to consider how you can apply the five factors of a solid WYSA statement in your business.

We have just published an e-book that will walk you through the process of defining what you stand against (and our book is available to you free, through Wednesday). It’s a simple way to increase your sales and help you build a loyal community of customers that will keep coming back for more.

I’d love to hear from you. Did the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty show up on your radar? Thanks for sharing.


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