Dove: the perfect success story in advertising

In 2004 Dove launched a ground breaking worldwide advertising campaign in the beauty industry. The brand created a new way to address their public which aimed to be “real” by getting rid of the complexes that beauty product consumers suffer from. Around 10 years on, how have Dove’s campaigns changed? What lessons can we take away?




A genuine campaign which speaks to “real” women

Following a worldwide survey on the way that women perceive beauty, Dove chose to make a drastic change to its approach to communication (2004). Having heard that only 2% of women would describe themselves as beautiful, the brand tried a completely new approach based on customer experiences and set itself apart from the market leaders. (1)

“When Dove did it, it was because they didn’t come from a position of leadership; so cleverly, they turned this weakness into a strength by creating a new way to address the public. A way that others have certainly considered, but Dove had a lot less to lose,” explains Xavier Charpentier, founder of consumer research laboratory Free Thinking. (2)

Launched in 2004, the new Dove campaigns created a real hype in their portrayal of women whose appearance differed from the standard beauty muse. The tag lines, which took the form of questions, asked the public about their view of these women; “fat or fit?” “wrinkled or wonderful?” A year later, the brand came back with a new campaign photographing 5 ‘real’ women.

The results of these campaigns weren’t long in coming. According to an IPSOS-led study in 2005, the recognition score of the Dove campaigns was 71% (versus 41%: standard rate for new campaigns in the sector: HBS – BM 480 K€) and the attribution score reached 42% (versus 24%: standard rate). (3)

By choosing to speak to women about their feelings and complexes, Dove has drawn on a unique and genuine message that’s inspired by reality, as Xavier Charpentier outlines: « This campaign essentially has two remarkable things: its simplicity with an obvious, huge, central and global insight (…) that everyone can understand and that every woman can relate to (…) and the second thing is that the campaign is long-lasting. The first campaign dates from 2004, and we’re now in 2013, and this campaign has been running a lot. » (2)

A lasting positioning that goes hand in hand with each of the brand’s statements

One of the strengths of this campaign is that it has been sustained over time. For 10 years, the brand has extensively developed the message of “real” beauty. In 2007, after tackling the complex of weight, Dove launched a new survey entitled “Beauty comes of age”, revealing that 91% of women aged 50 to 64 consider it time for society to change the way it looks at ageing. (1) On the back of these results, Dove launched a campaign dedicated to the beauty of wrinkles, grey hair and age spots, shot by internationally renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz.



This is not an advert for an anti-age cream. This is a “pro-age” advert, a new skincare range from Dove. Beauty has no age limit.

Drawing on an international study, the brand revealed in 2011 that anxiety about appearance starts at a very young age. In a survey of more than 1200 participants aged from 10 to 17, 72% of girls said they felt huge pressure to be beautiful. Dove therefore focused on this order of beauty that weighs on young girls’ shoulders from too early an age. This brings to mind the 2007 advert about the wave of advertising that young girls are subjected to.

Dove – Matraquage by Suchablog

« The campaign is extremely successful, whether it be in classic media or online, it’s the sign of a very successful campaign, » confirms Xavier Charpentier, before asking: « Who remembers thesedays that over 10 years ago, Dove was just a soap with moisturiser built in to it? »

Campaigning through a society-based project, Dove also created the “Self-Esteem Fund” in 2006, a programme that aims to increase the public’s awareness of the diktats of appearance and provides educational tools to offer support to individuals. For example, in 2006, Dove launched “Beyond appearances” kits for teenagers.

They were sent to 8,000 secondary schools in France. The goal of this operation was to put an end to clichés and develop girls’ critical sense. In 2009, and in the same vein, the Self-Esteem Fund proposed workshops throughout France for mothers and daughters to take part in together, in collaboration with psychoanalyst Serge Hefez. (5)

Multiple media communication creating brand hype

As proof of the campaign’s durability, Dove has been able to develop and adapt its message on all existing communication media, making particularly clever use of the “virality” of the web. In 2006, the brand produced an advert entitled “Dove Evolution,” showing the transformation of a “normal” woman into a supermodel, thanks to the magic of make-up and Photoshop.


Similarly, the brand has been able to take advantage of the speed at which buzz spreads on the net with a “Real Sketches” advert (cf Womenology link), which amassed more than 3 million views in 3 days on the brand’s official YouTube channel.

Commercially effective?

While the brand’s visibility has rocketed since 2005, commercial results began to stagnate from 2007 onwards. In an article from 24th September, the American magazine “Advertising Age” revealed that “after two years of double-digit sales growth and share gains, Dove’s sales have abruptly slowed since 2006”. After having grown by 12.5% in 2005 and by 10.1% in 2006, Dove’s sales only grew by 1.2% for the 52 weeks ended 12th August. (4) A sign that the “real” message has some limits?

In an interview from 2012, François-Xavier Apostolo, Marketing Director of Beauty and Toiletries at Unilever France, confirmed Dove’s reorientation with regards to real beauty. « Today, we’d like to take things even further, » he stated. « We want to reunite ‘real beauty’ with a slightly more aspirational dimension. Beauty has been pigeonholed for a long time with models on the one hand, and ‘real beauty’ on the other, with no link whatsoever between the two.”

In order to give the brand a more desirable image, Dove set up its first casting to give consumers the chance to be selected as ambassadors in 2011. “This casting was relayed on the Internet, in the press and in several shops… the candidates who presented themselves were all absolutely beautiful: they were people who wanted to put themselves in the spotlight. We’re trying to find a route between the real beauty that was portrayed 10 years ago and the beauty that’s personified by models,” says François-Xavier Apostolo.

Maintaining its message about real beauty and encouraging women’s self-confidence, Dove has succeeded in inspiring its customers by coming up with this contest.

Real beauty fashion shows, 4th June 2013:

Durability, authenticity, and closeness to its audience are the 3 key factors of success for the Dove campaigns. By defending women’s personal esteem, the brand has earned their empathy. At present, Dove’s new challenge is to keep this promise of « real beauty » alive while appealing to its customers’ imaginations.

« Our wish is for women to be in total support of this promise and this vision of beauty. The challenge is to do what it takes to make this aspirational aspect motivating enough to lead to purchasing of the product. The aim is to reinforce such brand favourability between the ‘real beauty’ approach and a slightly more elitist, aspirational approach.” (François-Xavier Apostolo)

Free thinking video analysis:

Marion Braizaz







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