Dove Effort Gives Package-Goods Marketers Lessons for the Future

Four Points to Learn From 'Real Beauty' Campaign

Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, among the most successful ad-agency leaders of our time, thought for a moment and responded: "Nothing has changed in terms of the insistence that everything begins with a great idea. Everything has changed about how it's expressed and the speed of getting it out."

Package goods
I had gone to Shelly with a specific mission. Since the advent of the internet, marketers of cars, travel and financial services had seen ample evidence that interactive marketing could directly boost business. But many package-goods marketers were holding back, wondering and worrying whether mass brands traditionally sold through mass media had a digital future. Was that, at last, changing?

Ogilvy's famed "Campaign for Real Beauty" for Dove answers resoundingly in the affirmative. But several reasons are unexpected. Yes, as the contemporary marketing cliche goes, consumers today demand dialogue. But interactivity is also requiring activity from marketers in three other areas: globalization, innovation and argumentation.

'Real Beauty' campaign
The "Real Beauty" campaign, now in its fourth year for Unilever's flagship brand, celebrates actual women of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors. Although it derives from Dove's historic positioning around authenticity, this spin has been credited with boosting Dove sales and share in every country in which it's been launched.

Thus, Lesson No. 1: Say what you will about globalization, but it works for idea flows. The "Real Beauty" concept originated in Ogilvy's Dusseldorf office, then rapidly made its way to London. A London newspaper article trumpeted an underlying truth about the effort: It wasn't advertising; it was politics. This was no surprise to Dove's global brand director, Silvia Lagnado. Wanting to push the $2 billion brand further, she had commissioned the research showing that only 2% of women worldwide considered themselves beautiful. The team knew from the start its concept was politically charged, and was able to test it and refine it as they took it around the world.

This, of course, is Lesson No. 2: Continual innovation is central to effective marketing. Almost as soon as the campaign entered the U.S., the agency incorporated new-media elements such as real-time voting on cellphones and tabulation display via giant billboards. So powerful was the public-relations effort that paid media was light, relative to CPG norms. "We were and are always reminding ourselves that the big ideas have to be media neutral," Shelly told me. "Too many times, you automatically veer into a television script."

An internet dialogue
The internet was central to the "Real Beauty" effort, evincing Lesson No. 3: Dialogue is de rigeur. "We launched it as website because we wanted it to be a dialogue," Shelly said. A conversation, she added, would not be perceived as advertising. "Instead, it's a dialogue, and a dialogue is enfranchising."

Of course, that means the marketer is staking out a distinct point of view. And the more your audience accepts your invitation to a dialogue, the clearer and more pointed that view must become. That's the path to Lesson No. 4: Even the most conventional products must take a position in a public debate. Thirty years ago, least-offensive programming dominated advertising and programming. Today, provocation is in order. The question, Shelly says, is: "Can you have your brand lead a movement?"

Seems perilous. Take a glance at Dove's "Real Beauty" blogs: For every few "My mom is finishing menopause and I think she looks as beautiful as ever," there's the occasional snipe. "The nudity in your ads crosses the line when viewed by young men," one mother wrote just last week. Doesn't that court alienation and risk for a package-goods marketer that has to build volume to make its margins?

"You can't control it," the Ogilvy CEO said. "But we didn't think there was much risk here. We were the guys on the right side of the argument."

And the women on the left and center of that argument too.

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Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is president-CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

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