Creative Report Card 2022: Dove broadens its expression of ‘Real Beauty’

How this year's top brand adapted its core mission to a new reality.

Dove and Ogilvy contacted 100s of healthcare workers to use their selfies in its campaign.This week, we are taking deeper looks at what got the country’s top creatives, strategists, agencies and brands to the top of the 2022 Creative Report Card. Check out the full coverage here.

This story was originally published in the 2022 Spring issue of strategy magazine.

You might say that “Courage is Beautiful” was the start of something, well, beautiful.

For 17 strong years, Dove has successfully built the confidence of women and young girls by turning “real beauty” stereotypes on their head.

Then came the pandemic. Right from the start, Dove saw the toll it was taking on healthcare workers, and equally realized that Canadians weren’t in the right headspace to hear it talk about societal wrongdoings. A new focal point was needed.

“The pivot away from focusing on physical attributes was 100% intentional,” says Brian Murray, former creative head at Ogilvy (the agency behind the work) and #2 CCO in this year’s CRC.

Without losing sight of Dove’s core mission, the agency found a way to redefine the meaning of beauty at a time when brands feared coming across as tone deaf. “‘Courage is Beautiful’ helped broaden the definition to be about what you do and not what you look like,” says Murray, who is now ECD at Zulu Alpha Kilo.

The new articulation zeroed in on the selflessness, compassion and bravery of nurses, medics, doctors and other healthcare workers on the ground, adds Divya Singh, category marketing lead for Dove/Unilever, this year’s #1 CRC Brand.

“The courage to move into that new expression of the platform was essentially dictated by what we were seeing around us at the beginning of 2020… We were listening to what audiences were thinking about at the time, which was the health and safety of their loved ones. So we pivoted.”

And a slow pivot it was not. Ten days was all it took for Murray and his team to conceive, pitch, produce and debut the spot that featured a moving montage of  selfies taken by those on the frontline, showing the markings of protective gear on their skin.

The brief from Dove – which was first presented to Ogilvy’s Canadian team and later shared with its U.K. head office – wanted to “keep the DNA of Dove in mind” but also expand on its efforts to help society and make a “tangible impact,” says Singh. So beyond recognizing pandemic heroes in the spot, the brand also donated $1 million worth of personal care products to healthcare workers.

“During the six or seven days the campaign was being worked on, we had to have our supply chain and logistics in order. Because we didn’t want to go live until our donations literally started moving out of our warehouses,” adds Singh. “But we were all working together, across different time zones,  to make sure we could go live with it quickly.”

Not only did the Dove and Ogilvy collective make strides in learning how to collaborate across oceans, they also opened up a new door for the “Real Beauty” narrative to be later retold.

Not even two months had passed since “Courage is Beautiful” hit the airwaves before Dove was knocking on Ogilvy Toronto’s doors again to develop the brand’s response to the police brutality and BLM protests in the U.S.

During the pandemic, the team learned that a brand can make its voice heard without coming across as opportunistic or pigyybacking on a crisis, says Murray. Taking those learnings, Ogilvy developed “America is Beautiful” as another pivot of Dove’s long-running “Real Beauty” platform.

Focusing, once again, on the strength and resilience of the human spirit (as opposed to physical attributes), the campaign saw six Black photographers commissioned to document the protests in six American cities. The agency used a souful rendition of Ray Charles’ America is Beautiful as the soundtrack for a spot that juxtaposed the lyrics with the not-so-beautiful things that were happening the United States.

The “Courage” and “America” work set the tone for global discussions that later took place around the next evolution of “Real Beauty,” says Murray.

“There was a big discussion about how [the brand] didn’t want to totally revert back to being about physical beauty. The core mission has always been to make beauty a source of pride, instead of a source of anxiety, and it’s been timeless. Now the challenge for Dove will be to continue to broaden the focus and lead the conversation, because it really is a brand that walks the walk.”