Dove Lets Change Beauty

Enduring Partnerships

Dove and Edelman Continue to Change Women's Beauty After 20 Years

The two companies have worked for two decades together since the success of 'The Campaign for Real Beauty'

By Stephen Lepitak

Few campaigns have been as impactful and rightly celebrated as much as Dove’s ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’ has been over the 20 years since it's original release. The Unilever brand's work revolutionised not just it's own marketing but the wider beauty and skincare sector in general. Even today, it continues to resonate on a much-changed society.

Dove has been nothing but adamant that it wants the rest of the industry to think more carefully about how it talks about, and represents, beauty to consumers.

“One of the things that we think about as a brand is to make sure that we are taking tangible actions and that we are not just talking about things that are happening in society. We think about impact,” explains Lauren Baker who leads brand marketing and social impact at Dove.

According to Unilever, last year, Dove delivered €6 billion in turnover, while the Dove 'Self-Esteem Project' reached over 100 million young lives with body confidence education.

Baker makes the point that looking back on the ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’ today, it comes across as nothing novel, featuring a diverse group of women in their underwear showcasing their different body sizes. But on its initial launch, it generated conversation worldwide about realistic forms of representation and the use of image-enhancing tools that continue now into social media and artificial intelligence.

“Technology is only going to come in quicker and faster,” adds Edelman’s executive creative director, Jamie Cordwell. “I think it's really exciting and good to know that Dove and Edelman are sitting here listening to see what new issues arise and how we can help the community and consumers by watching out and always looking for the next thing that we potentially need to address.”

That has been the major impact upon society that Dove can claim. Edelman has been along for the ride with creative agency Ogilvy from the start in promoting and enhancing that messaging throughout, including background research, insight generation and communications.

That role has evolved to the point where the teams work closely together to consider the right steps and actions for Dove to take next to reaffirm its positioning and impact in women’s lives, explains the agency’s US chief strategy officer Melle Hock, who describes the work as “an evergreen brief” that keeps evolving.

The changing nature of beauty marketing

“For such a long time, there was this idea, especially in the beauty industry that aspirational only looked one way. And if you wanted to sell beauty, you needed to make sure that you were selling that aspiration. What Dove introduced was an entirely new way of thinking about what could drive people to desire a brand and that was by seeing themselves represented and reflected back in it,” explains Hock with pride.

Baker described the partnership with Edelman’s team as being “like our right hand” as they together attempt to keep the pulse of society and understand what conversations consumers are having before consulting and collaborating on whether that is an issue for Dove to play a part within.

"The style and the realness of the messages that are put out about women, are ones that Dove was out in front of and wasn't afraid to do at scale" - Melle Hock, Edelman US chief strategy officer

And it is the mission of making beauty universally accessible, and the threats to that, that informs those decisions around where in culture the brand shows up, pushing back against harmful stereotypes and toxic threats. Most recently these have been within social media and the use of filters that warp the self-image of young girls and the images being produced by Gen AI. The brand has stated that it will not be using the technology to represent women within its own communications.

“We recognise we're not going to fix the whole problem, but I think if we think about specifically beauty and representation and what we can have a role in upfront… part of it is just making sure that we can identify where we as a brand can have a role,” outlines Baker.

She also highlights the important role that community engagement plays when informing the brand’s decisions, alongside consumer data. She cites the recent 'Code My Crown' campaign as an example of that. developed from insights that stemmed directly from the Black community who did not see themselves represented within gaming and by the avatars they were able to create.

That led Dove to look to improve the representation through the creation of a free guide for developers around textures and styles to include within video games and digital media.

To amplify the initiative, Edelman sought to engage some of the biggest voices and developers in the gaming industry to effect lasting change and champion the use of the guide.

So far, the campaign has generated over 1.8 billion impressions, which were either positive or neutral in sentiment. Ninety-five per cent of Black gamers also agreed that the initiative would have a "positive impact" on the gaming community, with 81 per cent saying they also felt more connected with Dove as a consequence too, Edelman's research found.

Long-lasting brand impact

As a result of the success Dove has seen over the past two decades, the Edelman team have been approached by other brands to try and understand the approach, reveals Hock. As a consequence, she recalls writing a brief where the problem for Dove was that suddenly every ad looked like a Dove ad – so it once again had to find a new way to stand out, becoming a victim of its own marketing success.

“The style and the realness of the messages that are put out about women, are ones that Dove was out in front of and wasn't afraid to do at scale,” is her assessment.

And with the new risks upon women that new technology is bringing in society, the brand’s message and ambition to raise the self-esteem of women around the world, alongside its partnership with Edelman, will continue as it began 20 years ago. It remains as important as ever today.


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