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Dove: evolution of a brand Essay

The aim of this case study, written by John Deighton, is to highlight and explain the revolutionary brand evolution strategy at the basis of the extraordinary Unilever’s Dove results, achieved in 2007. Overview: Masterbrands as part of the “Path to Grow” strategy Unilever is a leading multinational company active in the food, home and personal care sectors. It has been developing globally during the years, creating several of the most successful brands of the world.

Its expansion allowed a geographical diversification but also brought some problems of controls; especially the brand portfolio had grown in an unstructured way and required a change of course. Indeed, in February 2000 Unilever began the so called “Path to Growth”, a five-year strategic activity which included the reshaping and the reorganization of the brand portfolio. More precisely, the company planned to reduce its more than 1,600 brands to 400 and, among them, select a small number of “Masterbrands” responsible for creating a clear and global identity to be shared with the range of products, included under each Masterbrand name.

In this broad strategy it is situated the outstanding evolution of one of the survived brands, Dove, which was selected to become the “Masterbrand” for Unilever personal care products, beyond the beauty bar category and including hair care products, deodorants, body lotions etc. Dove Masterbrand strategy development Dove, until February 2000, had always been orienting to meet its costumers’ needs, providing them products, with a scientifically proven functional superiority. As a logical consequence, its advertisements had always been centered in promoting the cited higher functionality, preferring natural-looking women rather than fashion model icon in order to communicate honesty and authenticity.

But a marketing strategy to build a unique Masterbrand identity could no longer be based on functional superiority, as explained by Deighton; it should create a meaning for Dove, as a “Masterbrand”, to be applied to all its products. Pursuing the best way to develop the proper image, the management had to slightly change the approach to the promotion. Elements such as “client need”, “scientific research”, “the employment of natural-looking women” and “honesty and authenticity” survived as central aspects, but they were reassembled and combined differently to accomplish the mentioned goal.

The scientific research was no longer used to prove product functionality; but, it was the starting point of the new strategy: a worldwide investigation led by the global brand director for Dove, Silvia Lagnado, and interpreted with the help of two experts, revealed that women generally perceived aesthetic canons, typically illustrated in the advertisements, as very distant and unreachable. It was found out that most of the women didn’t mirror themselves in the advertised concept of beauty and a further survey showed that only the 2% of the interviewed described themselves as beautiful. Dove experts recognized a cultural issue; the beauty-related belief of average women and the advertised beauty weren’t matching.

The misalignment generated frustration in women and, as a relevant consequence for Dove, negatively affected the sales of health and care products. So, aware of women dissatisfaction, of their personality, of their need to feel beautiful and keeping in mind Dove internal goals, the management gave life to the revolutionary strategy and decided that Dove should have stood for a point of view. The management decided that natural-looking women would have had a key role in the campaign, but with a different responsibility: instead of promoting Dove’s products they would have promoted their “average” beauty, with honesty and authenticity. The campaign for Real Beauty was setup and ready to be implemented. The Aim(s) of the campaign

Born from the simply idea of creating a common and clear image to be shared with the Dove Masterbrand products, “The campaign for Real Beauty” has been then developed and changed as it went forward, pursuing further goals and, at the end, revealing itself somewhat different. As a matter of fact and as declared by Kathy O’Brien, Dove marketing director for U.S, the company wanted to “change the way society views beauty” and “provoke discussion and debate about real beauty”. This aim was reflected in the Dove’s mission statement, elaborated for the campaign, and it was enhanced with a relevant aspect: the expected repayment for the company, which was keenly expressed. The statement said: “Dove’s mission is to make more women feel beautiful every day by broadening the narrow definition of beauty and inspiring them to take great care of themselves”.

And here the real purpose of the whole initiative became clearer. With the declared aim to develop the common values for the Masterbrand and to overcome the beauty-related mismatch, emerged from the scientific research, Dove started the campaign. Then, inducing the community to a proactive involvement and to debate on such meaning, the company began in a certain sense the democratization process of the beauty. So, being recognized as the entity responsible of the birth of such a thorny process and as a provider of a clear and rule-breaker point of view, Dove started to be on everyone’s lips.

It remarkably increased its popularity and most important, allowed it to captivate a huge number of potential clients: those women to be helped in perceiving themselves “beautiful every day by broadening the definition of beauty…” and to be inspired “to take great care of themselves”. Paraphrasing the meaning of the period “to inspire to take great care of themselves”, the commercial aim of Dove’s campaign for real beauty becomes apparent. What made the campaign effective?

The combination of different elements made the design and the implementation of the campaign so successful. As a first element, the campaign has its roots in the setting of a clear brand’s mission, shared on a global level. The structure of the organization introduced by the Path to Growth strategy, which split the responsibility for each brand between two groups, the Brand Development, centralized and global in scope, and Brand Building, decentralized according to the regions in which Unilever was involved and responsible to bring the brand to life in each marketplace, substantially helped in defining a global mission.

Once developed, the brand’s mission worked as a benchmark for each initiative; a cornerstone around which, the whole campaign moved and evolved. Furthermore, the settlement of a well-defined mission was crucial to maintain the control over the campaign, once it had been shared with the community and on purpose exposed to its assessment, starting what I called “the democratization process of the beauty concept”. And exactly this process is the feature that I consider the sharpest and the most effective of the whole strategy.

Indeed Dove, proposing and supporting its unconventional point of view, with the aim to provoke discussion and debate, really made people feel part of revolution and, at the same time, outstandingly got the company closer to its potential clients. In order to increase women’s engagement, Dove, at a certain point of the campaign, directly asked them to film “their own daughters discussing their self-esteem challenges” and later on, “to create their own ads for Dove Cream Oil Body Wash” and to participate at the contest “the Real Ads by Real Women”. It extremely helped in creating a strong social interconnection between Dove’s supporters and the company; they were joint forces against stereotypes of beauty.

Moreover, the involvement of the community, thought in a more general sense and which spontaneously commented and also criticized the campaign, was crucial to increasing Dove’s initiative range and for its goals fulfillment. This aspect was part of a further successful feature of the strategy, the so-called Media planning, which was revolutionary and tailored as well. Responsible of the strategy and the investments for the campaign diffusion, the Media planning unit, as said, relied on the engagement of the community and of Internet too and so, it centered the investments in creating and expanding the community of the “real beauty seekers”.

It included the purchase of a Superbowl advertising space. Thanks to such investments and to Youtube, which played a key role in the divulgation of the ads, the phenomenon reached an extraordinary dimension and, as a consequence, the debate started to spread all over, acquiring more and more media hype, insomuch as 16 minutes of Today Show were dedicated to one of the campaign initiatives; even Oprah devoted a full show to self-esteem, built around a Dove’s advertisement. Critics, discussions and parodies rose in sequence, did nothing but increased the relevance of the campaign and amplified its range, exactly as planned by Dove. These are the reasons that made the revolutionary and unprecedented Dove’s campaign so successful and helpful for the company in becoming “one of 10 brands with the greatest percentage gain in brand health and business value in the past three years” and in its $1.2 billion of grow. References:

John Deighton, (Rev: March 25, 2008), Dove: Evolution of a brand, 9-508-047 Harvard Business school

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