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The Enduring Real Beauty of Dove’s Marketing Strategy

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

As other beauty brands have come and gone, Dove has steadily won the hearts of women for generations. Launched way back in 1957, the brand was originally positioned as a functional soap manufacturer. Now, powered by a steady stream of ground-breaking, award-winning campaigns, Dove has built a squeaky-clean brand image as one of the biggest names in beauty.


So, in this post, let’s take a look at how Dove has used a single, simple marketing message to drive decades worth of customer-engagement and positive brand perception.


Ahead of the Curve


In recent years, body-positivity has become a mainstream movement. From Victoria’s Secret using body-positive models in their latest campaign to ASOS not photoshopping out models' stretch marks, we’re seeing an increasingly diverse representation of women in advertising, fashion and social media.


Yet, back in the early 2000s, Dove was a body-positivity pioneer that was going against the beauty industry grain. Whilst other brands used aspirational marketing to convince women that their products could hide every flaw and scrub away every inch of cellulite, Dove’s messaging promoted the idea that women were already enough - just as they were.


As early as 2004, Dove began pioneering the concept of ‘Real Beauty’. This worldwide marketing campaign included billboard ads that showcased ‘normal women’ of all ages in a more realistic light - without professional make-up and extensive airbrushing.


Accompanying the billboard advertisements was the publication of the ‘Dove Report’, a corporate study funded by Unilever to create ‘a new definition of beauty which will free women from self-doubt and encourage them to embrace their real beauty’. This report made the damning claim that only 2% of women considered themselves beautiful.


Off the back of this research, the brand launched the Dove Self Esteem Project in 2006. This was an educational web portal setup to help improve how young people saw themselves through online articles, forums, and workshops on topics such as weight and bullying. At the time, it was a ground-breaking move.


Fast-forwarding to 2023, countless brands are using body-positivity in their print and digital campaigns. Yet, some have come under fire for exploiting the movement as a surface-level marketing ploy to appeal to younger audiences.


What makes Dove different is its long-term commitment to body-positivity. For two decades, appreciating natural and diverse beauty has consistently been at the core of Dove’s marketing strategy. In fact, it's become synonymous with the brand.


So, whilst other brands clamour to jump on the body-positive bandwagon, Dove’s long-term commitment to the cause gives it an edge: sincerity.


Leading With Connection


Instead of leading with its products' benefits and performance, Dove prioritises emotive appeal and social value. They have rolled out a consistent stream of high-impact campaigns with cause-based marketing messages at their core.


Take, for example, Dove’s 2015 #SpeakBeautiful campaign. Partnering with Twitter, it aimed to counteract tweets about negative body image by encouraging women to post positive ones. They also responded to self-deprecating Tweets in real-time. The campaign resonated with women who began to share inspirational Tweets and create videos highlighting their self-esteem struggles and triumphs.


The campaign’s results exceeded expectations by actually prompting a behavioural change on a mass scale. In 2014 there were over 5.3 million negative Tweets about body image posted by women. In 2015, that number dropped to 3.4 million - representing a 36.8% decrease year over year. For Dove, it drove 800 million social media impressions and boosted brand sentiment by 17 percent.


More recently, Dove launched its award-winning #ShowUs project. This is another user-generated content campaign that, partnering with Getty images, invited women and non-binary individuals to share pictures of themselves that ‘redefined beauty’.


The aim? To create the world’s largest photo library of ‘real beauty’ for advertisers and media to use. The project has created ‘a ground-breaking library of 14,000+ photographs devoted to shattering beauty stereotypes by showing female-identifying and non-binary individuals as they are, not as others believe they should be.’


With the rise of social media, Dove’s digital marketing campaigns have become fully integrated with their paid advertising, print and outdoor advertising. This seamless consistency ensures that they maintain a rock-solid brand message whilst deepening brand associations with their #realbeauty, #selfesteem and #showus movements.


Our favourite Dove Campaigns







The Takeaway


Throughout the years, Dove’s messaging and campaigns have consistently been rooted in one core value: real beauty. By pushing the boundaries with innovative campaigns whilst simultaneously maintaining consistent messaging across generations and media channels, Dove has managed to build an unshakeable position in the beauty industry.


One of Dove’s key strengths is knowing their audience inside out. They’ve committed to decades of research to understand women and girls, and in 2017 they commissioned their largest study ever - the Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report.


This deep target-audience understanding coupled with user-generated content campaigns puts their customers at the heart of their brand. So, when it comes to making sincere, long-lasting connections with women and girls, no-one does it quite like Dove.


Want to build a brand perception that endures like Dove? Get in touch today! Clarity Consultants provide digital media management and marketing consultancy that helps steer your business towards success.



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