Posted by: itm2011 | May 15, 2011

Only Sixty Beautiful Women

Only Sixty Beautiful Women

by: Melanie Eppright


            In early 2000, executives at Unilever decided to reposition several of the conglomerate’s brands including Dove in order, to gain an edge over its competitors, Proctor and Gamble, Kraft Foods, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and Avon. What emerged from Dove’s reposition was the iconic “Real Beauty Campaign.” Dove’s new campaign challenged unattainable beauty standards projected by the media, redefined beauty and in turn empowered women through advertisements featuring “regular” women, not supermodels.

Although Dove’s campaign helped the brand grow $1.2 billion over its first three years, some critics have chastised Dove for advocating an idealistic, feminist approach to beauty. Critics have provided biological and social evidence that suggests Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign,” will not have lasting effects. While critics raised valid points, Dove had financial growth, an increased consumer base, awards and a place in pop culture to prove that the brand had effectively executed its strategic reposition.


In 1930, Unilever was formed when the British Lever brothers and Margarine Unie, a Dutchman, merged their two companies, which depended heavily upon the use of palm oil. Combined, Unilever owned products in the food, home, and personal care sectors. By 1980, Unilever had lowered its dependency on palm oil and distributed its products on every continent (Deighton).

By the late 1990’s, Unilever operated 1,600 brands worldwide.  Although this meant Unilever was the world’s largest producer of home, food and personal care products, it lacked an identity. In 2000, Unilever embarked on a 5-year plan called, “Path to Growth.”   This strategy cut 1,200 brands from its distribution. A few of the remaining 400 brands were repositioned as “Masterbrands”. Dove was one of them.

Repositioning Dove

In 1957, Unilever introduced the beauty bar under the Dove brand. Original advertisements focused on the product’s functional benefits and evolved very little over time. For example, one ad said, “Dove cleans your skin” a later ad said, “Dove creams your skin.” After 50 years on shelves, Dove was ranked the number one brand of cleansing products in the beauty sector earning $2.5 billion dollars in over 80 countries annually (Deighton).

Although Dove was a successful brand, during the 1990’s the entire beauty industry changed. According to Anne-Marie Schiro, author of an article called, “The Beauty Business,” which appeared in the New York Times, women realized they could buy quality skincare and makeup products from their local drugstores instead of buying luxury brands from department stores. As women comprise over 50% of the United States’ population and by 80% of products, companies have to strategically separate themselves from their competition in order to capture female attention and persuade women to buy their products (Falcione).

Unilever realized in order for Dove to grow its market share the brand needed to adapt to consumers. As stated before, Dove was repositioned as a

“Masterbrands.”  “Masterbrands” were designed to express points of view. In determining what Doves point of view, Silvia Lagnado Dove’s global brand director conducted a study called, “The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report.” This investigation aimed to discover how women felt about themselves and the beauty industry. Worried traditional research methods such as focus groups would have only scratched the surface and not provided an in depth examination of the problem, she decided to implore unconventional research methods (Deighton).

Lagnado consulted two psychologists. The first was Nancy Etoff a Harvard University psychiatrist working at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of Survival of the Prettiest. Etoff’’s book described a biological connection to the idea of beauty. Her research concluded although beauty generally lies in the eye of the beholder, there are reasons why women featured in the media are considered so beautiful.

Women such as Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry look different from each other, but possess similar exaggerated characteristics such as wide eyes, clear skin, and full lips. These characteristics indicate that they have higher levels of estrogen than most women; therefore, they are slightly better suited for reproduction, which is a subconscious determinant when selecting a mate.

The Second was psychotherapist, Suzy Orbach, who treated Princess Diana for her depression and bulimia. Dove brand developers were astonished by how much insight psychologists gave into women’s emotional and personal issues. In addition, 3,000 surveys were distributed to women in 10 countries to collect opinions about their self-image and their ideas of beauty.

The results were startling. Only 60 women considered themselves beautiful. 5% felt comfortable calling themselves beautiful. 9% felt comfortable describing themselves as attractive and 81% felt that the beauty industry created an unattainable idea of beauty.  75% of the women defined beauty as, “white, thin and blonde, and wished the media would portray women with different physical attributes (age, size, shape and skin color).

Out of this research, came Dove’s “Real Beauty” advertising campaign. In 2004, Dove created an array of new products, including body wash, hair products, and deodorant. Brand developers listened to consumers and decided to use real women instead of supermodels, in advertisements, to appeal to their market and tackle the issue of low self-esteem. Dove used a combination of young girls, older women, larger women, shorter women and women of every ethnicity in print ads, billboards and YouTube videos.

Social Media

In Valerie Maltoni’s article, “Stregth in Numbers,” she says “arrogant advertisers have turned off consumer by treating them as faceless mass consumers without a personal story worth paying attention to.” However, the emergence of social media has made strides in correcting this problem. Maltoni describes how brands have used sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to retrieve consumer feedback. Additionally, She says social media allows brand managers to share information about their brands and allows consumers to spread messages for them and even co-create messages with the brand managers.

Dove’s most successful use of social media occurred during October 2006. The Canadian regional brand-building team created a short film, which was originally broadcasted on Good Morning America and later uploaded to YouTube titled, “Evolution.” The 75-second film used time-elapse to show how hours were spent altering woman’s appearance by adding fake eyelashes, caked on makeup and Photoshop techniques to change the shape of her eyes and the length of her neck. Finally, the camera zooms out and an image of the physically altered woman is plastered on a billboard. There was no mention of product, just another caption at the end of the video that read “no wonder we have a distorted perception of beauty.” Currently, the film has over 12 million views on YouTube.

Additionally, Dove invited consumers to participate in a commercial competition. Female, consumer generated commercials, advertising Dove Cream Oil Body Wash, aired during the 79th Academy Awards On February 25, 2007. By encouraging consumers to create their own ads Dove executives were able to see what motivated their target market to purchase products.

Dove encourages consumers to discuss the campaign and products by providing space on its website for blogs and open forums. Currently, the Dove sponsored bloggers range in ages and physical appearances in order to appeal to a wide variety of women. Blog topics discuss issues of self-esteem, definitions of beauty and the goal of creating a realistic self-image. Discussion forums ask consumers to respond to the questions, “What would you tell yourself at 14?” and “What made you realize you could…”

Dove Workshops for Girls

Source: Dove

The Campaign and Its Criticism

In order to help define Dove’s point of view, Unilever created a new mission statement for Dove: “Dove’s mission is to make more women feel beautiful every day by broadening the narrow definition of beauty and inspiring them to take great care of themselves. “ Subsequently, Dove created an array of advertisements, which bolstered the new mission statement. First, Dove put up billboards in several major cities that pictured a plus size woman. The ad instructed viewers to call the number provided and vote on whether the woman was, “outsized” or “outstanding.” At first, “outsized” lead the way, but ultimately, “outstanding” won.

Next, Dove used six “regular” women of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities to advertise the brand’s new skin firming lotion. The women wore only white bras and underwear exposing all of their curves and potential insecurities. This ad helped the brand and its campaign become a pop cultural phenomenon overnight. The six women appeared on The Today Show, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, CNN and Good Morning America. Combined, these shows reached 30 million people when they aired.

Dove executives decided to film their own young daughters discussing their ideas of beauty and individual insecurities. The Ogilvy and Mather advertising agency turned the riveting film into a television ad. A memorable image of an adorable little red haired girl was accompanied by a caption that read, “Hates her freckles”.  There were several more similar shots of young girls who were insecure about their appearances. A final caption at the end of the commercial reads, “We’ve created the dove self-esteem because every girl deserves to feel good about herself,” In order to develop confidence in young girls at an early age, Dove has partnered with Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Girls Inc. to provide self-esteem building workshops.

Although this campaign was well received by consumers and various media outlets, it was still criticized by sociologists and the beauty industry. Seth Stevenson a columnist for the online magazine, Slate said, “Talk about real beauty all you want-once you become the brand of fat girls, your doomed.” Critical marketers said Dove was using an unrepresentative idea of real beauty that a glamorous older lady, who appeared in one ad, was the super-model equivalent of woman well into her 70’s. When a freckled, 22-yearold girl was pictured in another advertisement critics said this girl may have had freckles but was, “enviably cute,” Dove defended its campaign and said that even though these women were still attractive their age or unique characteristics still made them feel insecure about their appearances (Deighton).

Virginia Postrel writes in her article “The Truth About Beauty.” Beauty is another component of the genetic lottery just like intelligence, athleticism and other talents. She asserts, “Real confidence requires self-knowledge, which includes recognizing one’s shortcomings as well as one’s strengths.” She reinforces her statement by relaying the story of an already intelligent woman who declared she would rather gain 15 IQ points rather than undergo plastic surgery. She concludes her article by saying, “Asking women to say they’re beautiful is like asking intellectuals to say they’re geniuses. Most know they simply don’t qualify.”

Brian Collins, executive creative director of the Brand Integration Group (BIG) at Ogiivy & Mather, who helped develop the campaign, understands the criticism. However, Collins and Dove have succeeded in getting people to talk about the meaning of beauty. In regards to the topic as an advertising campaign, Collins and Dove have redefined the advertising industry. When Dove first began its “Real Beauty Campaign,” Advertisers were simply pushing their messages on consumers, but Dove decided to have a dialogue with its consumers (Hopper).


In September 2006, Landor Associates a brand-consulting firm declared that Dove was one of 10 brands in the health and beauty industry that had grown $1.2 billion in the past three years.  In addition, Falcione and Henderson found that the “Real Beauty Campaign” returned $3 for every $1 spent making this an extremely profitable campaign. The campaign sparked an important societal debate about beauty standards, revolutionized the advertising industry and became part of pop-culture and as Philippe Harousseau, Unilever’s Vice President of skin care in North America said, “you can’t buy pop-culture.”

Works Cited

Deighton, John. “Dove: Evolution of a Brand.” 25 Mar. 2008. Web. 23 Apr. 2011.

Falcione, Olivia, and Laura Henderson. “The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.” Public Relations Problems and Cases. 1 Mar. 2009. Web. 23 Apr. 2011.

Hopper, Jessica. “The Dove Campaign: Conforming or Transforming?.” National NOW Times 38.3 (2006): 16-18. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 15 May 2011

Postrel, Virginia. “The Truth About Beauty.” Atlantic Monthly (10727825) 299.2 (2007): 125-127. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 15 May 2011

Schiro, Anne-Marie. “The Beauty Business.” The New York Times. 5 Feb. 1991 Web. 15 May 2011.


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