Dove: A clean slate

Two things: It's not unusual for a packaged goods marketer to win an award for its marketing. It is unusual for this kind of marketer to win not only for being effective, but also for doing some of the coolest, most innovative work out of any category.

Two things: It’s not unusual for a packaged goods marketer to win an award for its marketing. It is unusual for this kind of marketer to win not only for being effective, but also for doing some of the coolest, most innovative work out of any category.

Once, this might have seemed as unlikely as the Red Sox winning the Series. But the curse that relegated packaged goods marketers to making largely uninteresting ads for largely uninteresting brands has been lifted. This year Unilever is walking away with the big prize.

The company’s global Dove work from Ogilvy U.K. has been the leadoff hitter, featuring some remarkably progressive local (Canadian) executions – from creative to media to PR – that go beyond traditional notions of advertising.

Some of Unilever’s other brands, like Vim, have also gotten into the act and been rewarded by consumers and the industry alike. Zig’s work on Vim (TV spot ‘Prison Visitor’) netted a Gold Film Lion at Cannes in June, and sales have risen steadily since the spot started airing in May. These may be two different kinds of cleaners, but with a little daring and a little moxy, Unilever is discovering it can find the one kind of success that matters.

With its Dove brand marketing of the past year, packaged goods giant Unilever has given soap the kind of cultural relevance usually reserved for ‘lifestyle’ brands like MINI or Apple. If that sounds like an impressive accomplishment, that’s because it is. And because Dove enjoys its highest share in Canada, Unilever Canada played the lead role in the global marketing push for the brand.

According to Erin Iles, Dove masterbrand marketing manager at the Toronto-based company, Dove was Unilever’s showcase product line this past year. Although the $3 million to $4 million spent on the ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ to date doesn’t represent the most ever spent on a Dove campaign in Canada, Iles says it will take that title by the end of its run some time next year. And what a run it’s been, highlighted by such marquee marketing as the ‘Beyond Compare’ photo exhibit, which travelled to six cities across Canada and showcased different interpretations of female beauty by 67 women photographers in art gallery-style chic, but without all that art gallery stuff.

But that’s not where the campaign ends – or begins, for that matter. Campaign for Real Beauty didn’t officially launch until February 2004. However, Dove’s marketing was already using the theme of women’s self-image as early as fall 2003, when it partnered with the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC).

The impetus for all this came as a result of Dove product extensions into hair care (February 2003) and face care (July 2003) and Unilever’s realization that Dove’s positioning in the minds of consumers wasn’t where it needed to be to reflect the new breadth.

‘The brand was a bar of soap with a quarter of moisturizing cream,’ says Iles. ‘People trusted it and saw it as an honest brand, but they also saw it as a bit of a boring brand. That’s fine when your product mix is a bar of soap. But as soon as your product mix includes moisturizers that sell for $16 and toners and shampoos, it can’t be this boring brand that lives in your shower that you don’t think about. We really needed to make it a beauty brand.’

For a company with the resources and experience of Unilever, that sounds like a simple enough task – just throw together some spots featuring women tossing their hair or splashing on some water while extolling how great X makes them look et voila. That’s where Unilever decided to go in a direction completely uncharacteristic for the beauty category. TV was purposely eschewed altogether in favour of print and outdoor because the latter were thought to better reflect the desire to have a discourse in public spaces. That’s where Janet Kestin, CD at Toronto-based Ogilvy, says Unilever got ‘gutsy.’ It wasn’t a strategy accepted in all corners (see sidebar, page 32), but it flew and it appears to be working.

Sure the client did all sorts of research to find out what appealed to women. It revealed that all women want to be beautiful – but their own kind of beautiful and not something dictated by sets in Hollywood. What’s fascinating, however, is how Unilever used the insight: It had women look at themselves and open a dialogue on what beauty is.

Although Dove’s marketing has several touch points, undoubtedly the most visible and striking has been its ‘tick-box’ print and outdoor executions featuring images of everyday women along with two choices consumers can use to interpret their beauty (for example, ‘Fab? or Fat?,’ ‘Bald? or Beautiful?’). For this, Dove made the conscious decision not to use models made up to ‘look like’ everyday women.

Toronto media agency PHD came up with the idea for an electronic billboard in downtown Toronto inviting consumers to call in on their cellphones and vote. It went up on Oct. 13 and has recorded over 3,600 votes with the verdict on ‘fab or fat?’ running about 50/50. The campaign also included a buy in 60 health clubs across Canada with clings, posters and sampling.

‘Dove decided that if we were really going to work to debunk stereotypes and widen the definition of beauty, then we couldn’t just replace our definition of beauty,’ explains Iles. ‘We would just be substituting one dictator for another. The idea is to give beauty back to women and to say that we want to show real women and open up a discussion about what is beautiful. We thought that until we give [the discussion] back to everyday people, particularly women, we won’t really achieve our goals.’

Reaching those goals also involved some other noteworthy marketing efforts following a strategy Iles says came as a result of a decision to do fewer but more powerful initiatives (rather than, for example, sampling days at Wal-Mart). Enter ‘Beyond Compare,’ a strikingly designed photo exhibit featuring the work of 67 female photographers from around the world. Enter a series of seminars in Ontario junior high schools on the issue of body self-image. And enter the decision to buy all the ad space in Flare magazine’s 25th anniversary issue (no, really – Dove bought all of it).

Incredibly, Ogilvy made that last execution look like anything but a cheap sell-out by Flare. Instead, what readers got was a compelling, thoughtful series of unedited comments by women about themselves, spaced throughout an issue filled with nothing but arresting black and white photos of women by Bryan Adams. Kestin explains the line Ogilvy had to walk and how they did it.

‘We wanted to be respectful of the content of the book and of Dove. We also wanted to do something that felt unique and in its own way would support what the book is about, which is successful, self-realized women. If our ads had been ‘ad-dy’ then tonally that would have been wrong. And we also thought that if the ads were photography, we’d be competing in a bad way with the content.’

Originally, the questionnaires that Ogilvy sent out internally were intended only to build research for its Flare creative. But what Ogilvy got back were ‘funny, charming and truthful’ comments which ended up being used as the creative itself. Some shy women folded up their paper into small pieces, says Kestin. Young girls often drew pictures. ‘We realized that we couldn’t fake something that felt as honest as that,’ says Kestin. ‘So we decided to let the women speak for themselves.’

Dove also took the perhaps unprecedented step of engaging in marketing where it spent money and received no branding. That was the price Dove paid for being allowed into several Ontario schools where it funded seminars on body self-image for girls. Iles says initiatives like this and its alliance with NEDIC are about ‘thought leadership’ and being authentic.

Says Iles: ‘One of the first criticisms we get about our positioning is: ‘You’re just doing it to sell more product.’ In some respects of course we’ve got business objectives. But we’re passionately committed to this direction. And we really want to be thought leaders in this area.’

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dove was able to leverage these initiatives in other ways, such on its Web site and landing plum feature articles on the campaign in the Toronto Star.

The payoff has hit some parts of the bottom line as well, says Iles. Research on the impact of the photo exhibit, for example, found that among women who experienced the show, top-of-mind awareness for Dove was 34%. Among those who didn’t it was 18%. Also, women told an average of 5.6 people about the exhibit.

Sales lift is harder to track, she says, because there are so many other programs constantly running at retail, such as couponing and feature pricing, but she does confirm that awareness of Dove as a beauty brand is growing. As for sales, the brand is ‘seeing healthy share lifts.’ She says awareness is up between 35% and 50% in the last year. ‘Dove would never even have been on that register [as a beauty brand] before.’

Hey, it’s not easy being this beautiful!

Iles and co. got down and dirty to get new-look Dove accepted internally

The pretty ones are always hardest to get, aren’t they?

Surprise, surprise, the decision to market Dove by asking women serious questions and playing to reality, not fantasy (advertising’s usual bailiwick) wasn’t completely accepted inside Unilever at first. Erin Iles, Dove masterbrand manager, was part of a five-person global team put together to develop the campaign and says she had to spend a lot more time explaining herself to Unilever higher-ups than she expected.

‘For a beauty products company, this is a radical positioning. There were lots of supporters and there were some people who saw it as a huge risk. We needed to strategically convince them that it was the right thing to do.’

The concern was that showing non-stereotypical images of beauty wouldn’t be successful. Research showed Unilever otherwise. What the company found was that women wanted to be ‘their own kind of beautiful.’ Adds Iles, ‘[Women said] wrinkles are beautiful, and you can be a size 14 and you’re still beautiful. And once we started to see our consumers’ reactions we didn’t worry so much any more because we saw women reacting so positively to this authentic view of beauty.’

Janet Kestin, CD at Toronto-based Ogilvy & Mather, concurs, saying it’s the boldest she’s ever seen Unilever as a whole be. ‘What they’re doing is very gutsy. It’s risky for any brand to go all social message and not focus so heavily on product as they’re used to doing. But having said that, the time is right for it. Women are extremely open to it.’