Ten Years In, Dove's 'Real Beauty' Seems to Be Aging Well

Campaign Has Won Lots of Awards, Sold Heap of Product. But Has It Changed Perceptions?

By Published on .

It's been 10 years since Unilever's Dove launched its groundbreaking "Campaign for Real Beauty." It's won a plethora of ad awards and sold a heap of product -- sales have jumped to $4 billion today from $2.5 billion in its inaugural year. But has it changed perceptions?

Dove claims it has. Research from Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff examining the campaign then and now finds more women today define beauty on a wider array of qualities beyond looks, such as confidence. It also concludes that women now base their ideas of beauty more on social media than traditional media. The research was funded by Unilever, but Dove isn't trying to be too vain about it. "I'm sure we've played some part," said Steve Miles, senior VP-global marketing. Here's a look at six historical highlights -- and lowlights -- of "Real Beauty."

Precursor ads from the U.K. in 2003, before the campaign had its name or survey backing, showed curvy women in lingerie. And a set of outdoor and print ads in 2004 from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, asked people to decide whether the models were "wrinkled" or "wonderful," "fat" or "fit."

The nearly two-minute "Evolution" viral video by Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto, was the campaign's first big breakthrough, and the first double Grand Prix winner in the history of the International Advertising Festival at Cannes in 2007.

Dove followed "Evolution" in 2007 with "Onslaught," also by Ogilvy, Toronto, showing a little girl bombarded by media images seemingly designed to make her insecure about her looks. The ad drew fewer awards and more criticism, including a long-running social-media meme accusing Unilever of hypocrisy for also making Axe ads showing sex-crazed model-esque women.

Dove caught more flack in 2008 with Ogilvy ads featuring barely covered older female models to back its launch of Pro-Age products. Controversy flared when a professional photo retoucher told a New Yorker reporter he'd done work on photos for the campaign by the famed Annie Leibovitz.

The brand focused on more conventional product-performance claims from 2009 to 2012, though "Real Beauty" work such as a Facebook app that let women erase beauty ads they found offensive continued. But last year, "Real Beauty Sketches," in which a police sketch artist contrasted how women describe themselves to the prettier versions described by others, again took top honors -- a Titanium Grand Prix -- at Cannes.

At the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19, Dove was set to recognize the campaign's 10th anniversary with the debut of "Selfie," an eight-minute film by Academy Award-winning documentary director Cynthia Wade. In the film, a photographer teaches high-school girls and their moms to boost their confidence and expand their views of what beauty is by taking self portraits with their smartphones and posting them on social media.

Most Popular