Customers Buy Products, Evangelists Buy Causes

The Dove brand had its inception only a decade after World War II with the introduction of a new beauty bar that wouldn’t dry your skin the way soap did. It grew from this initial product into “the world’s top cleansing brand”, adding moisturizing body wash, antiperspirant/deodorant, face care, shampoos and conditioners, and styling aids to its product line. For 50 years, Dove has built a brand focused on helping women take good care of their skin, including the “industry’s longest-running medical program,” where Dove provides resources and information on skincare to support the medical community.

By 2004, however, Dove had become just another skin care product company that was lost in all the noise. With the dawn of a new millennium, there was a renewed obsession with beauty, personal care, and “age-defying” products. Dove became merely another consumer brand which no longer offered the hottest new thing or latest wonder-drug. As a division of Unilever, it was even fighting for attention among its parent company’s brands, such as Lux, Pond’s, Sunsilk, and Vaseline. With a gradual decline in sales, Dove needed to do something to become relevant again.

In 2004, Unilever approached its PR agency, Edelman, for ideas on how to revive the sagging brand. Edelman’s opinion research division, StrategyOne, conducted a study of over 3,000 women in 10 different countries in order to better understand what was important to them. The results were not groundbreaking, by any means, but very insightful. The study found that “only 2 percent of women around the world described themselves as beautiful, while 13 percent of women said they were very satisfied with their body weight and shape. In addition, 75 percent of respondents strongly agree that they wish ‘the media did a better job of portraying women of diverse physical attractiveness — age, shape and size.’”

This research sparked an idea that grew directly out of the brand’s mission, which is “to make women feel beautiful every day by widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring women to take great care of themselves.” The idea was to focus all marketing efforts on what the target market cares most about, not necessarily on pitching products or brands. The result was Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty (we’ll forgive the use of the word “campaign” in this instance).

The new marketing push launched in England in 2004 and then into the United States the following summer. Since it launched prior to the creation and growth of many of the social media tools we have come to know and love today, it used largely the traditional media to tell its story. This included advertising, videos, workshops, special events, public relations, the establishment of a “Dove Self-Esteem Fund” with resources to further the cause, and even the publication of a book and production of a play. To promote the Self-Esteem fund, Dove launched a series of commercials, one of which aired during Super Bowl XL, which were meant to raise awareness about self-esteem in young women and drive registrations for Dove’s Mothers and Daughters workshops.

As new technologies came into being, Dove utilized these tools to further its reach. In October of 2006, Dove placed one of its seventy five second videos, called Dove Evolution, on a new video sharing website called YouTube. The video showed the process of making up and then touching up a female model for a single photo shoot. Hundreds of millions of views later (if you count all of the versions), it became one of the biggest viral videos in history. Dove also created a website at that allowed users to vote on questions raised in the campaign, send Real Beauty eCards to friends to tell them how beautiful they are, and even add user created videos to the Real Beauty Wall. Dove even launched a Facebook fan page which has millions of fans at the time of this writing.  All of these efforts centered around the core cause of helping women feel comfortable in their own skin.

Dove Customer Evangelism

Dove Evolution Video

This move by Dove was called “gutsy” by many. It took the complete opposite approach of the rest of the industry, which promoted its products as being able to help you look younger, feel softer, or be thinner. One of my older brother’s favorite sayings is “somebody has to sell soap”, meaning eventually it comes down to someone selling something. Wasn’t Dove’s job to sell more soap? Why all the investment of time, people, and money in an idea that had nothing to do with buying Dove products?

I believe the results speak for themselves. Besides the myriad of industry awards the “campaign” won, sales of Dove’s firming products increased 700 percent in Europe within the first 6 months. Dove sales were up 11.4% the first quarter of 2005 alone, with double digit growth again in the second quarter. In the US, “for the year ending Aug. 7 [2005], Dove’s total U.S. dollar sales rose 6 percent to $500 million, and unit sales rose 5 percent, compared to the year-ago period…And dollar sales jumped 2 percent in just one month, from July to August.” As a measurement of direct impact, by September 2005, “more than 1 million women around the world ha[d] visited the Web site and voted on the images.” Global sales for the Dove brand even broke the $1 billion barrier in 2004.

What was the reason behind success? Dove tapped into one of the things its target audience cared most about – self image and self esteem. Not only that, but Dove tapped into one of our biggest responsibilities as parents and that is to help our children develop positive self esteem. As a father of four daughters, I remember the first time I saw a Dove Real Beauty commercial during the Super Bowl and thinking that it was one of the best messages I had ever heard. What brand do you think was on the shopping list the next time we needed soap, shampoo, or any other cleansing product? You guessed it – and I am not even the target market!


5 thoughts on “Customers Buy Products, Evangelists Buy Causes

  1. Pingback: Dove claims to be fighting female image manipulation at the source. Empty stunt? | Marketingheart

  2. You are so awesome! I do not think I’ve truly read a single thing like this before.
    So wonderful to find another person with unique
    thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up.
    This website is something that’s needed on the web, someone with some originality!

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