Unilever Ad: Don't Let Beauty Get Too Real

Campaign Plays on Moms' Insecurities About Letting Themselves Go | See the Video

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Unilever wants women to be satisfied with their looks -- as long as they aren't too complacent.

Mixed message
That mixed message comes courtesy of two beauty brands marketed by the same marketer and agency. The famed Dove Campaign for Real Beauty uses time-lapse photography to show an attractive woman who looks like she's just rolled out of bed being transformed through means natural and unnatural into a hot billboard model.

Suave, meanwhile, in a 30-second spot, shows a hot 20-something single woman transformed via marriage, pregnancy, childrearing and household chores into a disheveled mommy.

True mom beauty?
The latest iteration of Suave's year-old "Pretty Mommy" campaign plays on moms' insecurities about letting themselves go, an ironic twist for a company that has stoked pop-culture debate with Dove ads celebrating women with more weight, wrinkles and freckles than the beauty-model norm. The contrast is strongest in Suave's 30-second TV ad by Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, which is a bit like Ogilvy Toronto's wildly successful "Dove Evolution" viral video -- only in reverse.

"Dove is talking about something that's very internal, about your self-esteem," said Donna Charlton-Perrin, creative director on Suave at Ogilvy, Chicago. "Suave is just asking you to make a very surface change." The Suave ad ends with the mom spiffing up, thanks to the brand's value-priced shampoos, body washes and lotions.

"Each of Unilever's brands has a unique personality and target," said Ami Striker, Suave's director-brand development. "Dove's mission is around debunking the beauty stereotype. Suave is strictly about encouraging moms to put themselves back on the to-do list."

Making prettiness a priority
With a fairly basic product line of hair- and skin-care products, Suave isn't encouraging radical makeovers or extensive regimens. "We're not saying to put yourself on the top of the to-do list," she said, "because that's not reality. We're just saying to make sure you show up somewhere on the list."

Mary Lou Quinlan, CEO of the consulting firm Just Ask a Woman, doesn't believe Unilever is talking out of both sides of its mouth with the two campaigns. "The Dove campaign is about being happy with who you are, letting your natural beauty come through," she said. "The moms [Suave is targeting] feel that their real self is a prettier self, but they've kept it under wraps, or under sweatpants. This is saying, 'You are a hot mom. Let it out.'"

"The fact that Unilever makes both brands probably doesn't occur to most women, so I doubt in a true business sense whether the Dove brand will suffer from a very different message coming from Suave, or vice versa," said Janie Curtis, managing director of consulting firm Frank About Women.

'Frazzled, greasy-haired' women
"Real Beauty, the way they've executed and evolved it, has more legs," she said. "Suave is a little linear and one-dimensional. Women often do feel they let themselves go when they have children, and they do want to get that side of them back. But [Suave's] portrayal ... is rather limited. With more than 60% of women now working outside the home, not everyone is really a frazzled, greasy-haired, jean-wearing woman."

Both approaches seem to be working. Dove has grown double digits in each of the past two years since the Campaign for Real Beauty started at two to three times the rate of the categories in which it competes. Dove sales rose 10.1% to $589.2 million in 2006, according to Information Resources Inc., after a 12.5% increase in 2005. That compares to only 2% in 2004, when the campaign launched in September.

With sales of less than $1 billion, thinner margins than premium brands and business heavily centered in the U.S., Suave isn't a major growth driver for Unilever, which has been focusing resources on such billion-dollar global behemoths as Dove and Sunsilk. Yet Suave has maintained market share in its categories, 9.5% overall, Ms. Striker said, amid accelerating category growth and heavier competitor spending levels.

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