Ogilvy & Mather London's Planning Director, Marie Maurer, spoke to the Financial Times about her paper entered into this year's IPA Effectiveness Awards. The paper, titled 'Beautifully Effective: How Dove turned cultural resonance into ROI', shows how the Unilever brand, Dove, articulated a strong point of view that beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety for women.


FBI forensic artist makes a pencil point about looks

Client: Unilever
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather

The problem When Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004, it was one of just a few businesses pushing against infeasible beauty standards depicted in the media. But over the next decade, reality TV, social media and the craze for selfies meant that “real women” — not models or actresses — became more visible in mainstream media. Dove’s idea of using real women, whose images had not been Photoshopped, in its advertising no longer seemed original. The beauty brand had also been accused of hypocrisy when railing against an industry of which it was very much part.

It was time to shake up “Real Beauty”. But in an increasingly crowded sector, marketing products so that they stood out on retailers’ shelves was becoming harder, especially with the rise of store brands. Dove was struggling to distinguish itself from the competition.

The strategy Dove decided to create a new campaign depicting how women’s perceptions about their looks may be too harsh. Alongside this campaign, which focused on the brand, Dove would run smaller campaigns to promote various beauty products. “The idea was to appeal to the heart and head,” says Marie Maurer, planning director at Ogilvy & Mather London, the agency that creates Dove’s advertising.

The campaign In 2013 Dove launched "Sketches", an online video featuring a forensic artist who makes sketches of suspects for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The video showed him sketching women without seeing them, based on what they said they look like and then on how a stranger described them. The sketches based on the stranger’s description were more accurate and more attractive.

The next year, Dove launched another video, “Patches”. This showed women wearing something resembling a nicotine patch, which they were told would improve their self-esteem, and turned out to be a placebo.

A third video, “Choose Beautiful”, encouraged women to acknowledge on social media that they are beautiful. The videos had substantial PR and social media campaigns behind them.

During this period, Dove aired several TV ads to promote various products. It chose not to air the self-esteem videos on TV, however. “The idea was so women could discover it and share it among themselves,” says Ms Maurer.

The ‘Sketches’ drawings developed the ‘real beauty’ theme

The outcome When “Sketches” launched in 2013, it became the most viewed ad online at that time, with more than 170m views across global channels. The “Choose Beautiful” video prompted 3.7m women to visit a Tumblr site. While the ads attracted millions of views, however, they were also criticised and inspired dozens of spoofs. “Patches” in particular was seen as portraying women as easily duped by a marketing ruse.

“Sketches” and “Patches” delivered $4.42 in profit for every $1 spent in the US, according to Data2Decisions, the analytics company.

Why it worked In recent years, there has been a big trend in advertising to promote social causes, such as workers’ rights, environmental issues or, in Dove’s case, problems of body image.

The idea behind this development is to attract consumers who, increasingly, are ethically conscious. However, the industry often struggles to prove that “purpose marketing” does boost profits.

“We are quite an emotion-led industry, and a lot of the things we do [are] intuitive,” says Ms Maurer. “We proved that having a social purpose pays back, not just in the long term, but in the short term.”


This was originally published in the Financial Times.