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Dove campaign reflects a beautiful strategy
Written by Shirley Lichti for The Record, June 21, 2006

In a world where media depictions of beauty are based on physical attractiveness and airbrushed images, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is a breath of fresh air. The campaign, which uses real women not models, was launched by Unilever in Canada in early 2004.

Based on research that came out of a global study of 3200 women, Unilever learned that 76 per cent wished there were more realistic portrayals of beauty. Only two per cent of women surveyed felt comfortable calling themselves 'beautiful.'

Gina Crisanti of Chicago leans against a Dove Beauty billboard for which she and five other "real" women posed in 2005.

According to Gabriel Verkade, the former assistant brand manager on the Dove brand, Unilever's approach to integrated marketing communications is to build a campaign around one true consumer insight. The insight that sprang from the research study was that the current definition of beauty was too narrow and that women wanted it to change.

"The Dove mission is to widen the definition of beauty," states Verkade. "The Campaign for Real Beauty is based on a belief that beauty comes in different shapes, sizes, ages and that real beauty can be genuinely stunning."

Work on the campaign began with Unilever asking 58 well-known female photographers around the world: "What do you think defines a beautiful woman?"

Sharon MacLeod, marketing manager for Dove Canada, says they were overwhelmed with the response, which included submissions of photos of women and children of all ages, sizes and ethnic backgrounds.

An exhibition was launched with 67 of the photos (including some by Annie Leibovitz) all provided at no charge. Donations by visitors went to the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, created to help women and girls celebrate their individual beauty.

As the campaign evolved, the message was delivered via a variety of marketing communication elements: print and tv ads, billboards, free-standing inserts, web site, sampling, direct mail, in-store promotion and public relations.

A good integrated marketing communication strategy must ensure that each element supports and extends the same integrated and consistent message that is delivered by all the other elements in the campaign.

Some people erroneously think that integrated marketing communications means that you always have to do the same thing. But MacLeod says, "You do the same thing in a different way so that you deliver an integrated message."

She adds that you also need to have a consistent look, feel and tone. "We're very conscious about Dove's tone of voice," she says. "Dove's brand personality is honest, straight forward, simple. She talks to you like a friend. There's never any puffery."

Examine any of the Dove communications and it's easy to see consistency with predominantly white backgrounds, simple designs and real women. The overriding message is "Be beautiful, be yourself."

The results of the campaign are impressive with 100 per cent of the photo exhibit visitors making a link back to the Dove brand. There were 50,000 hits to www.campaignforrealbeauty.ca in its first two months. Unilever had to add staff to its call centre as interest generated in the campaign was the highest in the company's history.

But more importantly, according to MacLeod, is that the campaign got people to start talking. It engaged them in debate, helping to reframe how people think about beauty.

One interactive billboard in downtown Toronto showed a woman in a black dress asked the question "Fat or Fab?" People could call a 1-800 number to submit their vote. In the end, 51 per cent said the woman was fat. Online voting for the same campaign resulted in 74 per cent saying fab, Verkade notes.

The "Little Girls" TV ad, developed in Canada, was aired on this year's Superbowl as a way of starting a dialogue between women and the game's predominantly male audience.

So what's next?

"The campaign is a long term initiative," MacLeod says. "It will continue to evolve as we listen to women and hear what they have to say."

For example, MacLeod says the global study pointed out how a lack of self-esteem affects young girls and holds them back from being successful in life. As a result, Dove funded a new website (www.realme.ca) developed by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, designed for young women to explore issues related to self worth and body image.

Dove will also host Real Beauty Workshops for girls aged eight to 12 in major cities across Canada this fall that are designed to help an adult female role model foster self-esteem in girls, MacLeod says.

While the campaign has been expensive, the investment paid off many times over as a result of the publicity it generated. But the real payoff may come from Dove's role in changing how my young nieces grow up defining real beauty.

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