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Dove’s campaign for real beauty Essay

Introduction and Problem Statement

Unilever, with annual revenues of approximately $50 billion and a staff of 250,000, ranks among the world’s largest companies in consumer products. One of its most famous labels is the personal care brand Dove. In an attempt to reposition the brand and rid it from its “conservative” image, in 2004, Dove launched its radically new “Campaign for Real Beauty”. In-house consumer research had revealed major insecurities among women concerning their physical appearance. Hardly any female considered herself to keep up with the standards depicted in regular beauty advertising.

Based on these findings, Dove redefined beauty in a way that had been ignored by other players before. Targeting women aged 30 to 39, the campaign’s purpose was to show real female beauty, reflected in different shapes, sizes and ages. The core message was “No models – but firm curves.” The campaign received enormous attention; sales of Dove-branded products nearly quadrupled and market share increased significantly in various core markets. (for further information please refer to 5.1).

Nevertheless, after this great success and image shift, Dove’s major brand management challenge for the upcoming year is how to continue the promotional campaign.

The problem can thus be formulated a follows:
What should Dove do to prepare for the re-launch of Dove beauty products to the next level and successfully keeping this competitive advantage for global use over time?

1. Alternative A: Reap the benefits of brand awareness
One possibility for Dove is to seize the opportunity of high brand awareness to extend the brand and enter new target markets while largely continuing with the women’s marketing mix. A beauty care line for middle-aged men would be introduced, as this segment is not well explored by competitors yet and, age-wise, goes in line with the current female target. Products would connect the moisturizing and mild benefit with attributes like “energetic” and “self confident”. Regarding advertisement, this would be communicated using “normal, average” males and thus stay with the “Real Beauty” paradigm. However, it is assumed that men are less prone to be self-conscious about their looks. Therefore, perceptions would be assessed in further studies and advertising messages focused on the issues regarded as most critical.

2. Alternative B: Continue to evolve
With the current success of the campaign, it might also be reasonable not to introduce significant changes. The idea would thus be to simply extend the brand communication and promotion for two aspects: To give consumers some new insights and keep them excited, advertisements would not merely depict happy, normal women. They would now also include storytelling, showing how average women’s self-confidence helps them in different situations (such as job interviews or dates). Additionally, Dove products would be featured more prominently in these advertisements. Their connection to “Real Beauty” and self-esteem would be communicated more clearly by showing the women use Dove products prior to making a self-confident experience.

3. Alternative C: It’s all in the product
Seeing how the prevalent image in the beauty industry is still one of perfection, Dove might be well-advised to provide for the possibility that identifying with “imperfect” women loses its appeal to the customer base. Without returning to classic beauty models, the brand could hence decide on detaching the products from body images altogether. The self-esteem topic would still be key, but the main focus lies on the product. For example, women would no longer be shown in campaigns, but merely close-ups of skin and the products – packaging as well as ingredients – themselves.

4. How easy is it for competitors to imitate the strategy? With Dove’s focus on “Real beauty” seeing such great success, it is likely for competitors to try and get their piece of the cake by imitating Dove’s strategy. When utilizing a more product-focused strategy, communication will rather be on brand attributes than on the brand image that has successfully been established. As attributes are easier to copy and, consequently, convey, alternative C runs at a respectively higher risk of being imitated. For alternative A, as there will be a new target group to win over, competition is likely to be dangerous from beauty brands that already enjoy a high standing among the relevant consumers (e.g. Gillette). Alternative B builds the most on the current communication strategy, where Dove is well-established and simply needs to keep consumers interested in order to reap its “first-mover” benefits.

5. In how far are current brand associations held up?
As Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign was exclusively focused on women, it might be hard to stretch the brand associations to fit the new consumer segment targeted by the portfolio extension (i.e. men). As a consequence, prospective customers could experience difficulty identifying with the brand, whereas current customers could perceive brand values as somewhat diluted by the new attributes. Alternative B will clearly remain the most consistent with the current image; alternative C, on the other hand, runs at a risk of not diluting but rather reducing the brand image by taking away its “human” dimension. On top of this goes the fact that it is harder to convey brand values when they are not placed in a reference frame (e.g. that of curvy women enjoying themselves). While the core message and self-esteem concern will still be pursued, losing the edge of directly opposing competitive cliché images might harm the brand’s credibility.

6. Will consumers in the long run withstand the attraction of idealized advertising? Although the move away from idealized models has brought Dove high brand awareness and appealed to many women, it is questionable whether consumers will not fall back into their “learned” habits of trying to become more perfect. The consequence would be that they are again attracted by competitors. As explained above, alternative C would somewhat prepare for that backward shift. Alternative A, with going into a new target, still has some room for maneuver to introduce slight changes back towards higher idealization. Alternative B, however, is completely tied to alternative beauty models and thus most exposed to the risk of backward-changing consumer preferences.

The brand management faces a constrained budget, which makes conducting a combination of these alternatives unfeasible, at least in the short and medium run. The task is hence to select the one most promising alternative.

Addressing the issue of sustaining a unique positioning first, it is clear that alternative C provides the least protection against copycat behavior of competitors as it even partly abandons the original concept and thus leaves more space for the rivals to also associate their brands with attributes such as genuineness or sincerity. Similarly, alternative A opens a window for imitation even though it is, arguably, not likely to happen, as the market for men’s personal care is not as profitable as to allow rivals to simply establish themselves as followers in this way. Under alternative B, Dove further elaborates on its positioning which is deeply ingrained in the minds of customers, thus rendering imitation by competitors especially hard and therefore unlikely.

As already mentioned, the question of compatibility of the current brand with men’s mindset is questionable. Even though, option A does not have to necessarily alienate the current target group, provided the advertising message is adapted seamlessly and promotes the idea that real beauty comes regardless of sex as it comes regardless of age, ethnicity or shape. Alternative B stays close to the message and does not pose a threat in this regard. Alternative C, however, moves away from the concept, producing incongruity within the brand image. This fact, together with the previous issue, makes alternative C seriously undermine the strategy that Dove has been following and we hence drop it from subsequent discussion.

Regarding the risk that people regress to their old habits of following an idealized concept of beauty, alternative B fares better than alternative A. While not reverting to the standard approach to fashion advertising, the storytelling technique expands the consumers’ understanding of the issues and leads them to process the brand’s benefits more consciously. This should, in turn, inhibit the customers’ inclination towards idealized images in advertising. In this regard, Dove might be worse off under alternative A, as a positioning for two partly distinct target groups can reduce the degree to which each of them associates themselves with the brand.

Also alternative B is a mere evolution of the current campaign. From an economic point of view, the fact that the target segment remains the same, the future returns are severely limited. Albeit option A is associated with a higher risk, it has to be concluded that a successful implementation would also enable Dove to unlock a whole new market, making this choice more appealing.

The final decision between the two options is difficult. While being somewhat weaker on the side of economic potential, alternative B ultimately outperforms alternative A in regard to other issues. Higher revenues can still be made by expanding geographically, while the image needs to be adapted to fully resonate with the customers. Yet, these alternatives are mutually exclusive only to the extent of the disposable funds. Alternative A might hence very well be the logical extension of Dove’s efforts and the natural next step for a “phase 3” of its brand relaunch.

Additionally, several other factors should be taken into account, such as a possible conflict with other Unilever brands, such as Axe/Lynx. These inconsistencies should be countered with a clear positioning in non-overlapping segments and appropriate PR measures. Also the global dimension of the decision should be kept in mind and the campaign continuously adapted to local circumstances in order to display a high level of fidelity, which is completely crucial if the brand is to sustain its image. Provided Dove manages to avoid pitfalls as these, the brand is best off by evolving its brand communication to further curb female insecurities about themselves while strengthening the link between the image the brand evokes and the products. (For further detail pleas refer to 5).


7. The company and campaign
Dove was originally developed in the United States as a non-irritating skin cleaner for pre-treatment use on burns and wounds during WWII. Nowadays, Dove products are available in more than 35 countries, generating revenues of $3 billion. The Dove product line includes body washes, beauty bars, deodorants, hair and facial care products and lotions. Before Dove set up the marketing strategy, they wanted to understand the relationship of women to beauty, without a special focus on any beauty care products. Therefore the company charged a global research firm, StrategyOne to conduct a research study. Hence, StrategyOne surveyed 3,200 women from around the world. The result of the survey showed a wide disparity between the ideal of beauty pictured in the media and the perception by women themselves. Based on this report, the company redefined beauty in a way that all competitors have ignored. To launch a new campaign Dove used a new and unconventional ideal of beauty, thus they differ significantly from their main competitors.

To strengthen the emotional ties to Dove’s target group, the brand and not the single products should be in the foreground. The campaign was launched to increase also revenues and to re-brand Dove. Therefore the advertising budget approximately accounted for $ 27 million in Europe alone. The “Campaign for Real Beauty” began in September 2004, when a website for beauty debates was established. The main target group was 30- to 30-year-old women who could identify with the new brand mission statement “to make more women feel beautiful every day, by widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring women to take great care of themselves”. To transmit the core message Dove’s ads contained no models, but firm curves.

The promotion also showed a group of women of different ages, shapes and racial backgrounds that were just having a good time in bras and knickers. Therefore the models were chosen in a “street casting” to achieve a great acceptance among the observers. Traditional television and magazine advertising was supported by outdoor ads, such as billboards, posters and signs. The results were dramatic, because the advertisement gained a massive media coverage. The brand had a sophisticated image shift and is now described by adjectives like “open”, “active” and “self-confident”. The turnaround was really striking. [1]

2. PEST Analysis
Figure 7: PEST Analysis

Political factors:
As Unilever and therefore also Dove are globally acting brands, there are several political and legal factors that could influence the performance of the company. For example the political stability in different countries is not as stable as in Europe. Therefore a quick change in laws can occur, like the employment laws, health and safety laws, consumer laws etc. It is also possible that new import tariffs are introduced. Hence, regarding those changes the costs for Dove could increase and the demand for the products could be reduced.

Economic factors:
Economic factors can have major impact on business and future decisions. Those factors include an economic downturn, volatile exchange rates and inflation rates in the operating countries. It is possible that Dove has to increase prices due to different circumstances like increased ingredients price and therefore the demand for the products could decrease.

Social factors:
Social factors as lifestyle and cultural values vary from region to region. As Dove launched the unique campaign they have to be careful that they adapt it to the different cultural environments and lifestyles around the globe. But also brands have a great impact on peoples’ lifestyle and can change it.

Technological factors:
Technology is also necessary for Dove’s success and competitive advantage. This includes for example research and development activities and information technologies (with their interactive website). To maintain the competitive advantage being a moisturizing product, Dove has to rely on the technological progress and has to be a first mover.

3. Porter’s five forces

Figure 8: Porter’s five forces

Threat of new entrants:
As Dove had great success with their “real beauty campaign” there is a potential risk for new entrants. But Dove is one of the best brands over the world and competitors have to face that. They have an outstanding marketing strategy and high quality products. But barriers to enter the market are low threat of new entrants can therefore be rated as medium.

Bargaining power of suppliers:
Dove is a sub-brand of Unilever that as lots of suppliers over the world. Therefore Unilever as the parent company has power to influence the suppliers and switch them easily. So Dove has also a sort of pressure on their suppliers and can cut down prices and establish tight relationships with suppliers. Hence, bargaining power of suppliers is low.

Bargaining power of buyers:
As there are many competitors within the industry, Dove’s customers can easily switch to another label. But the Dove brand stands for high-quality products and promotes real beauty in their campaigns so they rely on loyal consumers. However, you cannot only trust in the sustainability of the campaign in the long run, the bargaining power of buyer has to be rated high.

Competitive rivalry within the industry:
The main competitors of Unilever are Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, because their sub-brands are quite similar to Dove. In the beauty industry there is verly little product differentiation and similar product offerings, as well as little trade secrets. This leaves little room for competitive advantage, but Dove has always remained at number one, because of their loyal consumers and their moisturizing skin quality products. However, it is easily to switch to other high-end products and also to private label brands, therefore competitive rivalry is high in the operated industry.

Threat of substitute products:
There is a treat of replacing Dove products by competitors’ products, but people will always need toiletries and therefore cannot easily substitute the line. They can only switch within the existing industry, but as people love Dove and their campaign there is just medium threat of its replacement with present products.

9. Alternative/Issue weight

|Issues |Alternative A |Alternative B |Alternative C | |Threat of
imitation 50 % |- |+ |- | |Brand consistency 30 % |~ |+ |- | |Ideals 20 % |~ |- |+ |

Table 2: Alternative/Issue Weight

As you can see from the alternative/issue weight table above, the threat of imitation is the most serious one. As only alternative B is to be forearmed against this risk it is the most desirable one. Also in line with brand consistency alternative B scores highest, followed by alternative A that would try to win over a new target group, but with the same values. Alternative C is the most promising one if it comes to society’s ideals. As markers want to sell hope, this alternative would fight against the society’s upcoming doubts about “average, normal” models. All in all, you can see that alternative B is due to our table the most promising one.


• Hips feel good” – Dove’s campaign for real beauty, Richard Ivey School of Business, Northeastern University, College of Business Administration, Canada, 2009 ———————–
[1] Adapted from “Hips feel good” – Dove’s campaign for real beauty, Richard Ivey School of Business, 2009, p. 3ff

Figure 1: Unilever logo, source:

Figure 2: Dove logo, source:,

Figure 3: Hips feel good, source:

Figure 4: The campaign, source:

Figure 6: The campaign, source:

Figure 5: The campaign, source:

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