Cause: Conscience marketing

When Dove relaunched in 2004, it touted itself as a beauty brand promoting real beauty. To prove it, average women of every ethnicity - with ample hips, age spots and deep wrinkles - were used as models in the advertising. The marketing, which grew out of the brand's existing Self-Esteem Fund, was called the Campaign for Real Beauty. In marrying cause with ad, Dove became a pioneer embarking into a new marketing frontier and proved the unthinkable: Advertising could have a conscience.

When Dove relaunched in 2004, it touted itself as a beauty brand promoting real beauty. To prove it, average women of every ethnicity – with ample hips, age spots and deep wrinkles – were used as models in the advertising. The marketing, which grew out of the brand’s existing Self-Esteem Fund, was called the Campaign for Real Beauty. In marrying cause with ad, Dove became a pioneer embarking into a new marketing frontier and proved the unthinkable: Advertising could have a conscience.

‘What Dove did was different than most brands because [the idea for] the Dove

Self-Esteem Fund actually predates the Campaign for Real Beauty,’ says Janet Kestin, co-CCO of the Toronto arm of ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, which over the years has been behind some of the brand’s most affecting work. ‘It was developed by the [brand] before there was a communications message,’ says Kestin. ‘It’s the seed that’s at the bottom of everything. It was never stuck on.’

The approach, an unquestionable global success, trumpeted to consumers and other marketers that big brands with big advertising budgets could create slick ads, push product and promote change.

It hasn’t stopped there. The February launch of its Pro-Age line is a campaign in defense of the older woman. ‘Pro-Age just says: ‘Be you,’ not ‘Be 30,” says Kestin. Further proof: ‘Dove is Pro-Age,’ reads the copy on the website. ‘Are you?’

These days, most brands have claimed a cause. Some have taken on breast cancer or the environment; others have created foundations for children. But what’s unique about Dove is that the promotion of its cause – positive self-esteem for young girls and women – is the strategic backbone of its mainstream campaign. While an anomaly, it is part of a wider social movement that’s gaining traction: As billionaires use their money to seek a cure for AIDS and citizens demand that their governments get eco-conscious, consumers are now expecting brands to do more than sell. Brands must stand for something.

‘I fundamentally believe that advertising has to change the world in some manner,’ says Canadian Scott Goodson, founder/CEO of ad agency StrawberryFrog, which has offices in New York and Amsterdam. ‘I know it sounds entirely idealistic, but it’s just smart business sense today.’ His agency, whose mantra is to ‘spark cultural movement for brands,’ has an impressive client list that includes Microsoft, Heineken and Old Navy. StrawberryFrog recently applied the philosophy to a similarly minded client, Mega Brands. Its movement? Creativity.

The Montreal-based toy manufacturer was not looking for a campaign, but an idea that would encompass its positioning – toys that encourage imaginative play – and would resonate on a deeper level with kids and parents, says COO Vic Bertrand. The maker of art supplies and building sets noticed that most toys don’t provide kids with unfettered creative play space and that parents were concerned about the issue.

‘We were looking to find a message that would strike a nerve, and build a culture around it,’ he says. They found it in the ‘Creativity to the Rescue’ concept. The work’s central character is a dark mass of scribbles that spark and pop (like an idea) with a cape. StrawberryFrog created a storybook, a viral campaign and a Creativity Pledge, which kids sign to promise to stay forever imaginative – even into dreaded adulthood.

‘We believe that understanding a brand’s equities and connecting them to a movement in culture brings greater relevance to a brand’s offering,’ says Goodson. ‘Finding [that idea] and connecting it with a brand’s culture is like placing a surf board on a wave and watching as the momentum builds into cultural movement.’

While most brands can’t re-engineer their marketing messaging to the extent of a Dove or Mega Brands, many are making valiant efforts to create a deeper link between a brand and a cause.

McDonald’s, known for its long-standing commitment to kids with Ronald McDonald House, recently joined a group of 14 other marketers to fight childhood obesity. With the help of Health Canada, the marketers have promised to produce more ads promoting exercise, healthy foods and smaller portions.

Another example: In 2006 shoe and accessories retailer Aldo committed all of its media heft and entire marketing budget to the global promotion of Aldo Fights AIDS. More than 850,000 $5 tags, available at all locations, helped generate over $3 million to support grassroots youth AIDS programs in such countries as Rwanda and India.

But Dove is perhaps a prototype. The brand now partners with eating disorder clinics around the world and organizes workshops that help young girls deal with media perceptions of beauty.

That message was part of a viral campaign launched earlier this year called ‘Evolution’ by Toronto’s Ogilvy & Mather, which shows how an average woman with access to the right make-up, lighting and retouching experts can be transformed into a supermodel. In addition to massive media coverage around the world, ‘Evolution’ picked up some of the top prizes in the ad world: a prestigious Gold Pencil at the One Show, a Yellow Pencil at the D&AD Global Awards, and a silver Clio Award. And the campaign is now considered a frontrunner for a top prize at the Cannes Lions 2007 54th International Advertising Festival this spring.

As for the profound connection that brands can make to causes, beyond the sponsorships and one-off efforts of yesteryear, Kestin says the budding trend could become a movement: ‘For brands to find a relevant social good [in order to] have a deeper participation in the universe, it seems to be happening – not at lightning speed, but I think in general the consciousness is changing.’ •