Unilever/Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" has spawned a wealth of controversial, polarizing and eye-opening marketing efforts that got consumers talking about what beauty is truly about in our media-saturated age. First came Ogilvy/N.Y.'s bold move putting everyday women in white underthings all over billboards in major cities. Then, the clever team at Ogilvy/Toronto took up the torch and responded with "Evolution," launched in October last year. Shot by director Yael Staav out of Reginald Pike, the short film shows the painstaking and unglamourous steps required to turn a woman into a billboard-ready babe—from hair, makeup, photography and lighting, to Photoshop and extreme retouching—a process, which in effect, somehow sucks the "real beauty" out of an already naturally attractive person. The viral was created to encourage girls to participate in Dove-sponsored "real beauty" workshops in conjunction with the brand's Self-Esteem Fund. Once it hit the internet, it racked up more than six million hits and became a darling of the media circuit, making appearances on shows like Ellen, The View and Good Morning America, netting an estimated $150 million worth of media time. Interestingly enough, no Dove products make an appearance, but the brand message was powerful enough to strike a resounding chord with our judges, who voted it the best creative idea of 2006.
Q&A with Ogilvy/Toronto co-chief creative officers, Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin
Please tell us about the history of this project. What kind of brief did the client put before you, and how did you initially go about addressing it?
Janet Kestin: This project came with an ambition more than a brief. We wanted to provoke moms into owning their power where their kids were concerned, motivate them to participate in the Dove Self-Esteem workshops and dramatically raise the profile of Dove as brand that lives what it preaches.
How did you come up with the idea behind "Evolution"?
Nancy Vonk: Tim Piper, whose idea it was, says it came out of seeing how models are transformed from people into unrealistic and beautiful objects on a set through hair, make-up, retouching etc. And recognizing that his own girlfriend was so affected by these false images that she couldn't see or appreciate her own beauty.
What were the biggest challenges behind the project? How did you overcome them?
Kestin: I suppose the only real hurdle was making the budget stretch to accommodate "Evolution." We didn't have very much money and what we had was earmarked for two other films that were a little more specific about promoting the workshops. We all knew we'd do "Evolution" eventually and it was really important to us that eventually was now. So many people wanted to see it done (photographer, retoucher, production house, post house, music company) that they turned themselves inside out to make it possible.
What were the biggest challenges in regards to the actual production?
Kestin: Probably the biggest challenge was keeping the energy up from the time lapse to the still head. It was extremely hard to find the right stabilization for the head so that it still looked real and not over-produced.
We've seen the "story behind the makeover" before—in advertising and film. What do you think makes the Dove story/execution particularly impactful and memorable?
Vonk: Transformation is always interesting, but to see it happen before your eyes is riveting. It wasn't a typical before and after story as much as a rapidfire journey through the illusion we all buy into: that if we only eat little enough, use the right shampoo, buy the right mascara etc., we can all look like models. Which is of course entirely false and this shows it. It was flawlessy executed and the subject matter is highly relevant so people watch it over and over.
What, if anything, have you learned about advertising and marketing from this project?
Vonk: I think it really opened our eyes to the power of the internet. People are starting to believe it but the trust isn't there yet because there's no history. Our clients were willing to embrace the new space in a big way, and it expanded their audience immensely and delivered their most high-profile communication ever. Equally important is how critical the right message can be. Talk straight to the right audience with the right message, and it's wild what can happen.
Anything interesting you can tell us about the client's involvement in the campaign? What did the team at Dove contribute to the creative process?
Kestin: We're hugely lucky to have the world's best clients on Dove. They're the first to say "go for it" when presented with a new, unexpected idea. They contributed the best thing a client can: a clear goal and enormous faith.
What kind of results did the campaign see—in terms of viewer hits and sales?
Kestin: How long of a list would you like? 2 million YouTube hits in the first two weeks, over six million now. It ran as content on Ellen, The View, The Today Show, Good Morning America, BBC Breakfast, etc. It was most viewed on YouTube for day, week and month in October 2006. Most viewed story on CNN.com on October 24 and ABC.com's lead story. Its media value is estimated at 150 million. It's been parodied repeatedly, has appeared on countless websites. Its aim was to promote the Dove Self-Esteem Workshops, which sold out in Canada almost as fast as tickets to an Al Gore speaking event in Toronto, which literally sold out in minutes. Neilsen BuzzMetrics showed that interest in the already interesting "Campaign for Real Beauty" went way up. "Evolution" was not trying to sell anything other than a point of view. Its real purpose, and this is true of all Dove Self-Esteem Fund work, is to promote dialogue. It did that spectacularly and a whole lot more.
Any unusual anecdotes you can share about this project?
Vonk: A continuity problem in the film led to a necessary dip to black early on in the film, which led us to having a title "Evolution – A Dove Film." It wasn't in our plans but it gave the media something to grab and helped everyone know where to find it on YouTube.
If you can say, what do you have in the works now, for Dove?
Kestin: Lots of surprises. So I should probably keep them that way.