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Transformation Tuesday: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty

In the first of our Transformation Tuesday series, we’re showing a bit of love to those who’ve used digital content to innovate and improve the perception of their brand. First up: Dove.

The ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ has been recognised by Advertising Age as the best campaign of the 21st century. Although Dove used real women in its ads in the 90s, it went on to distinguish itself from other beauty brands by celebrating female beauty in all its forms. Launched in 2004, the campaign followed a global study run by Dove, which revealed that only 2 percent of women would describe themselves as beautiful. Though it started with billboards in London and Canada, which asked viewers whether the women featured were ‘fat or fit’, the campaign has since lived almost solely online.

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The breakthrough came in 2006 with the viral sensation ‘Evolution’, which showed how make-up and Photoshop could be used to manipulate the appearance of a normal woman to fit media standards of beauty. Turning the conventional beauty billboard ad on its head, the film resonated with women who felt surrounded by unattainable portrayals of beauty. With YouTube just one year old, ‘Evolution’ became a revolution as one of the first videos to go truly viral, generating a better ROI from its YouTube spot than its Super Bowl placement. This was testament to how inspirational and shareable the audiences found the core message.

The content since, developed along the same theme, has all been similarly well received. ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ is the eighth most watched branded video of all time. Heavyweight production from use of filmmaker Cynthia Wade and photographer Annie Liebovitz for the film ‘Selfie’ and advert ‘Pro-Age’ respectively has also lent the campaign serious gravitas.

The latest offering, however – the ‘Choose Beautiful’ campaign – has been increasingly critiqued. As well as being labelled unimaginative and tired, the campaign suffers from an increasing rejection of the premise that beauty should be the primary way for women to measure their self worth, or that a beauty brand advert is an effective form of empowerment. Yet with the backlash surrounding the Protein World ad, depicting a super slim supermodel asking audiences whether they were beach body ready, Dove is clearly speaking the right language.