Dove's Got a New Viral Video, but Is It Enough to Sell Soap?

Consumers May Not Budge Unless Offered Some Help, Along With the Film

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Dove has rekindled excitement around its Campaign for Real Beauty with a three-minute video entitled "Sketches." In it, a forensic sketch artist draws images of women, seated behind a curtain, who describe themselves by responding to the sketch artist's questions. Then an acquaintance is asked to describe the same women to the artist, and the two sketches are compared. Invariably, the self-described sketch portrays a much less attractive woman. As the sketches are revealed to the participants, the artist asks suggestively, "Are you more beautiful than you think?" to which the teary-eyed respondents, reply in the affirmative.

The short film is beautifully shot and expertly edited. From the advertising point of view, two questions surfaced for me after seeing it: 1) Will this message of "You are more beautiful than you think" resonate with people and be associated with the core values of the Dove brand? and 2) Will this advertisement sell Dove's soap?

For the fun of it, I had some quick-and-dirty qualitative research done around the "Sketches" video. The respondents were 100 women chosen randomly on the streets of Manhattan. It's hardly a definitive sample, I know, but with interesting responses nonetheless. Following are the questions they were asked, their answers and my interpretation.

Did you like the video? A full 80% said yes, scoring it between 5 and 7 on a 7-point Likert scale. While only directional, this validates the insight, the storyboard and the production value of the video. While I do not represent the target, I couldn't agree more. I would have scored it a 7.

Does watching this video change how you see yourself? 50% yes / 50% no. Wow. Watching a three-minute video on the street changed the self-perception of half the respondents. That is powerful stuff.

Do you associate the video with any particular brand or product? Without the brand being revealed, 70% could not; 15% did associate the message with Dove, though others selected beauty brands like Bobbi Brown. This suggests that the values espoused in the video do not firmly belong to Dove.

For those who answered, "No," five brands were introduced: Lululemon, Nike, Dove, Sephora and Women's Health Magazine, in that order. The question was then asked, "Which of these brands would you think might make a video like this?" Respondents were asked to force rank. Dove, Sephora and Women's Health were equally divided, with Lululemon and Nike distant followers. The fact that Dove made the top set affirms that their brand is not dissonant with the video's messaging, but this message is shared by a number of brands.

Does the video make you feel any better about Dove (Better / Worse / Neutral)? The brand is now revealed. A full 70% of the responders replied that yes, they did feel better about the brand, with the remaining 30% selecting neutral. No one felt worse. The message resonates, and Dove, as provider of that message, enjoys a more positive perception.

Do you like the video any more or less because it comes from Dove? 70% responded that the brand affiliation did not matter. I begin to get the feeling that people feel as if Dove was sponsoring this message -- that it did not come from Dove as much as Dove had approved it.

Do you think you might buy more products from Dove after seeing this video? No, 70% said, they would not. Oops. This may be surprising to some, given that 80% liked the video and the powerful effect it appeared to have had on viewers' self-perception. It is typical in these cases that we see the opposite: people over-index on stating that they will buy more, but then do not.

I have a few thoughts on why we are seeing this result. Fewer and fewer people are moved to change behavior subsequent to two-dimensional messaging. In this case, we know the message resonated and was well received. It is just that people expect brands to help them get to a desired state, not just tell them about it.

Nike is a good example. It was not advertising alone that re-established the brand with serious runners after it had bled share from that audience. It was very much the creation of Nike+, a tracking device with accompanying software that helped runners run more effectively and with more joy. The experience that the brand offered, not just its message, was what moved Nike back into serious contention in the marketplace.

"Once you have established a direct relationship with a consumer," says Stefan Olander, vice president of Nike Digital Sports, "you don't need to advertise to them." In Dove's case, helping women to feel better about how they look is of much greater value than telling women to feel better about how they look. It's an emerging marketplace truth: brands that offer people stories and experiences will succeed in changing purchasing behavior, while brands that rely on storytelling by itself will not.

The data suggest that some, perhaps even most of the respondents, recognize that the values being espoused are more of an aspiration for Dove than brand bedrock. In its history, Dove has espoused several messages before it campaigned for Real Beauty. Unilever, the parent company of Dove, also sells Axe and other brands that seek to promote more artificial, idealized definitions of beauty to their customer base. When this kind of authenticity disconnect occurs, brand experiences, not words, become even more important. It's a matter of establishing authenticity with consumers.

This is exactly what Nike Digital Sports is doing for Nike, fulfilling its aspiration to be seen as authentic to the running / exercising public. It is what Amex has done through Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. One could even argue that it is exactly why Bank of America's "Keep the Change" campaign was so successful, as it sought to prove to current and potential customers that the bank truly is the Bank of Opportunity. Experiences prove it, when messaging alone cannot.

The message and effort Dove is putting forth in the "Sketches" video actually might help change how people perceive themselves. But it remains to be seen,whether viewers will buy lots of product. If Dove wants folks to change behaviors, it is going to have to work a little harder and provide valuable experiences, not simply messaging. As an old advertising friend of mine used to say, when you are telling you are not selling.

Loren Grossman is Global Chief Strategy Officer, RAPP.
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