Sunday, October 7, 2007

Rhetoric not authenticity in latest Dove campaign

Within days of an Ad Age article recounting the significant fall in Dove brand sales across the board (Soft Soap) a new Dove campaign has hit You Tube. It remains to be seen whether it is sufficient to reverse the declining fortunes of the business

If one is going to reinvigorate a brand, it needs be upon a solid basis that will serve the brand for years to come. Too often however, agencies fall more in love with advertising ideas and devices rather than brand ideas for long-term growth.

Take Unilever’s Dove brand.

The initial ambition was simple: connect women with the brand through shared values. This is sound: a Roper study found that this is precisely what unites the world’s top brands with their franchises.

The approach was to stir up issue value that could then be used to position the brand as an attractive ally. This too is sound: creating “issue value” is becoming increasingly needed in order to stir an often indifferent or somnambulant public and galvanize them to participate.

It is the decision to orient issue value and the brand-consumer shared belief through a moralizing stance on beauty that is not sound.

Here's the evolution of Dove brand reinvigoration

Phase 1

Communications were created to spark a debate about beauty, raising consciousness about how narrow and stereotyped the existing definition is, while introducing a more realistic, healthier, and attainable alternative. It championed beauty on ordinary women’s terms. The campaign for real beauty was the brand’s rallying cry.

Visually, the campaign was iconic. Advertising in every channel showed what had previously been taboo: amply proportioned and even large women. They beamed how good they felt in their own skin. It was empowering. It was celebratory. It was inclusive.

Phase 2
It saw the viral spread of Evolution, proclaimed it’s “no wonder our perception of beauty is so distorted” by showing the excessive retouching that transforms a women into beauty industry advertising allure.

This effort represented a subtle but significant shift. In phase II the beauty industry is being singled out as ‘the enemy’, the force against which the brand and its consumer advocates should continue to rally. The emphasis of the brand however is not on the celebration of women’s beauty in all its wonderfully diverse sizes, colors and shapes. It is focused on fighting an opposition.

Phase 3

‘Onslaught’ has just been released, depicting a young girl being bombarded with beauty industry imagery. “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does” extols the brand.

Of note is the strategic emphasis. While the opposition continues to be the beauty industry, the focus is again upon children, and Dove is appointing itself as a moral guardian. Or concerned on-looker at least.

There are three ironic elements to this:

1. Telling parents to talk to kids misses two important realities. 1) Kids are influenced by example, not what they’re told. 2) If mothers continue to be so focused on their outward appearance and gaining acceptance of others, worry about their weight ro what people think of them, have 'beauty treatments' like manicures and pedicures, etc. the lack of change in the image problmem of the younger generation will speak for itself. It’s the mother’s that have to change behavior, not preach.

2. Dove encourages parents to face off against the beauty industry, and while Dove’s campaigns continues to champion the rally, unhealthy female imagery and expectations are being simultaneously reinforced by the same company. The Axe/Lynx brands which targets male teenage with fantasy is also owned by Unilever. In an age of transparency, this is ill advised.

3. The celebration of the brand’s inclusive point-of-view about beauty has been pushed aside, at least for now. Granted, there are challenges in keeping a fickle, short-attention span society engaged once they’ve become comfortable with an idea – and the rise of the reality programming genre has certainly diminished the visual distinctiveness Dove’s ‘real beauty’ imagery.

The advice for Dove: lose the faux compassion and be authentic.
If you’re serious about change, then encourage parents themselves to change and be better role models. Inspire them to be a great example for their daughters. Then perhaps there’ll be sustainable change, not hollow brand gestures.


L said...

Two things come to mind: The first is Philip Morris' smoking cessation campaign. Everyone could see through that as well.

The other is: women also need to be a role model to their sons, not just daughters, for they also grow up having expectations of what defines a female. Change not only must come from women, but from what men come to expect from women.

Dr. Taly Weiss said...

Great post!
Building authentic appeal is the only key for leading brands who wish to lead public discussions while using the consumers as the media.
On the same issue -