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Dove Launches Fake 'Beauty Patch' in Latest Play for Viral Glory

Women See No Effect from Placebo at First, Then Tearfully Do

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Unilever's Dove has what it hopes will be a major follow up to last year's viral mega hit "Real Beauty Sketches" with today's 65-country introduction of "Patches," a 4-minute video following women who are given fake pharmaceutical "beauty patches" to test.

Perhaps predictably, given the 10-year-old Dove Campaign for Real Beauty genre, the placebo patches make women in the mock clinical trial feel more beautiful. Then they're surprised, in some cases tearfully, when they discover the mysterious and convincingly packaged "RB-X" patch contained no active ingredient other than their own increased confidence.

Actually, in the early going, most of the women report no difference at all. Then, over the course of the following weeks, when they notice themselves looking good or get compliments from others, most of them attribute it to the effects of the RB-X patch.

The test was administered by Ann Kearney-Cooke, a psychologist at the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute, which provides treatment for eating disorders, and who's also identified in the film as a "distinguished scholar at Columbia University."

Like "Real Beauty Sketches," "Patches" comes from Ogilvy & Mather Brasil (Sao Paulo) as part of an "open brief" Unilever has for Ogilvy and other agencies working on Dove globally to produce new creative for Real Beauty. Unilever isn't on a schedule to produce new ads in the campaign at any particular time, but moves when it has creative it thinks warrants attention, as with "Camera Shy" and "Selfie", which came out later last year and early this year, said Steve Miles, global senior VP of Dove.

With 138 million views, last year's 6-minute Real Beauty Sketches ranks as the eighth-most watched branded viral video of all time, according to Visible Measures, and won an Advertising Age Viral Video Award as most watched viral film of the year. But Mr. Miles said he's not out to beat a viewership number -- even though "Patches" is in many ways being given a harder push, with a simultaneous introduction in 65 countries and paid media support from the get-go, rather than waiting to roll "Sketches" into full global distribution and paid media over several weeks.

"I just want each film to work and engage women," Mr. Miles said. "For me, it's not just the crude numbers game per se. It's are we getting the right sort of response?"

The instant global rollout, he said, "is a sign of the receptiveness now and our belief that our best insights are truly global."

Work on "Patches" began last fall, and Unilever has handled the rollout a bit like a Super Bowl ad -- only with a bit more security perhaps, given that the company unveiled its Axe entry quite early. As Dove's PR shop Edelman was previewing the ad last week, it would only it in person rather than risk premature disclosure by sending it over the internet.

So does Real Beauty sell soap, shampoo and the like? Yes, along with everything else Dove is doing, as Mr. Miles sees it.

"In terms of market share, the ultimate proof of whether consumers are coming with us, or all of the brand equity measures I look at, we're on an ascending trend with Dove in almost every region of the world," he said.

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