Unilever Gives Birth to Baby Dove as Johnson's Tries to Bounce Back

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Unilever's Dove and Dove Men+Care are proud parents of Baby Dove, the brand's first major category extension since launch of the aforementioned men's line seven years ago. The new line of baby washes, lotions and wipes kicks off with a digital video today to be followed by a broader digital, TV and #RealMoms social campaign.

Baby Dove arrives just as the category leader, the Johnson's Baby brand, copes with declining sales and negative publicity from lawsuits claiming its baby powder is responsible for ovarian cancer in some women -- something the company vigorously denies. It also comes after Unilever appears to have walked away from a reported interest in acquiring an upstart that rattled the category in recent years, Honest Co., which is now apparently off the market after hiring a new CEO. Both companies declined to comment on that.

Big brand extensions into baby bath products have been slow going in the past, even from brands with a close connection to the category. Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Huggies discontinued its foray into bath products, and Procter & Gamble Co. sold Kandoo, an offshoot of its giant Pampers brand, to orphan-brand marketer Nehemiah Manufacturing in recent years.

So why will things be different for Dove?

"Baby Dove is building on the 60-year heritage of cleansing and care and moisturization of the Dove brand," said Nick Soukas, VP of Dove. One of the key insights behind the products is that baby skin loses moisture five times faster than adult skin, so Dove's heritage of moisturizing products fits particularly well, he said. He declined to comment on the litigation woes afflicting the Johnson & Johnson competitor, but said Dove was coming to market because it has a products line that can make a positive impact.

Beyond the moisturizing heritage, Dove has been squarely focused on moms and dads with its existing product lines for years, making the leap to babies fairly easy. Marketing for Dove Men+Care in particular has been focused on men's roles as fathers since day one.

But Baby Dove will be focused on the primary buyer in the category -- moms -- and in particular bucking up women's self-esteem vs. pressure to be perfect. Instead of Real Beauty, think of it as a campaign for real parenting.

"When you look at how brands are talking about parenting, there's a real opportunity to bring a modern, updated view of parenthood," Mr. Soukas said. Baby Dove marketing will aim to "show parents as they really are, and the reality of parenting." Dove research shows nine of 10 moms feel pressure to be perfect, but only 26% feel they can live up to the ideals portrayed in media.

Backing the launch are media shop WPP's Mindshare on media, Publicis Groupe's SapientRazorfish and WPP's Ogilvy & Mather on creative, and Edelman on PR and influencer marketing.

J&J, while admittedly having a rough time of late on the Johnson's Baby business, will be putting up a renewed fight, Baby Dove or no. In a presentation to the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in February, Jorge Mesquita, worldwide chairman of Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, said, "Johnson's Baby is a category where we are clearly underperforming" and "losing share." But he said turning the business around is his biggest priority, and that the company is preparing a restage and "brand transformation" that "recognizes it clearly is not connecting with consumers as it once did."

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