Dove Story

I asked a question in a recent blog post about how Field and Binet in their research differentiate between an advert being emotional or rational. Because in some cases they cite ads as being emotional that seem to me to contain reason / rationale or product benefits.

I think Dove is a case in point.

This post is in response to Martin Headon’s blog post challenge. There needs to be much more debate on this area of advertising and so I thank Martin for that - although I reckon we kind of agree to be honest. Frustrating isn’t it?

Although the ad for Dove that Martin drew our attention to here certainly has no product benefit in it, I think the overall award-winning campaign for Dove that focuses on women and beauty does. I’m not sure the ad that deals with shyness is indicative of Dove’s 2004+ campaign to be fair, although clearly part of it.

The Dove ad campaign in question features what you might call every-day women and it talks about what beauty really is. That must be reason enough for a beauty product aimed at every day women, no?

I think there is reason there albeit not as much as it used to focus on say in 1996 here. However, we still see campaigns by Dove post 2010 that returns to product benefit for deodorants here and a product demo here for soap. Not that I love these ads by the way.

There are two areas that I’d like to talk about concerning Dove.

Firstly how it came about as a product and how much of the heavy lifting in terms of growth in market share up to 2004 was done with a different form of reasoning what some may call rational messaging or product demos of sorts.

Within that hopefully I cover Martin’s point – “Perhaps when your competitors are closing in, and your product no longer has a rational point of difference, making an emotional but relevant connection with consumers is the only way to carve a distinctive platform for your brand.”

Secondly there is an arena that Dove and Unilever has stepped into that I really do not agree with which is brands becoming agents of social change.

The history of Dove as documented here on AdAge, which I quote throughput this piece, is fascinating. A patented product up until 1991, Dove started as a soap for soldiers in WWII, then attempted to become a dishwashing liquid in 1965 and failed, note not all brand extensions work.

A major boost came in 1979 when Unilever seized on a report (rational info) that Dove irritated skin less (due to its PH of 7) than other soaps, they used this info to help sell their products.

By 1986 Dove was the #1 soap in the US, so lets not think that Dove just arrived in 2004 this was a big brand already.

Another interesting fact, in 2004 - 25% of Dove Soap users did so because they were recommend to by their GP. Not a bad recommendation I’d say. And I’d wager people would still say they use Dove for this very reason - so why would advertising choose to ignore these selling points?

The real market share battle began in 1991 when Dove’s patent expired and they went head to head with Oil of Olay (another WWII product invention now owned by P&G) who could now discover Dove’s secret ingredient. Why were P&G interested in Dove’s active ingredient? Surely they of all people should know that people buy emotionally - couldn’t they just build a stronger brand - why did they feel the need to get all rational about soap?

All through the 90’s P&G and Unilever were battling it out, Oil of Olay took the lead back for a while and so on and so forth.

The battle really took off with successful brand extensions all through the 90’s. It seems that Dove took one direction and Olay another after 1996. Dove went for deodorants, shower gels, facial cleaners and shampoo and conditioners. Olay went for facial cleansing, face cream, skin hydrating and anti aging lotions although still having ranges of soaps and gels too.

The other massive success of Dove was going global with its range of products and being one of the largest marketing spenders in the Unilever portfolio. The steepest growth occurred between 1998 and 2002 according the article. Does that mean that much of its success was built on Dove marketing its product benefits to a worldwide market prior to 2004?

So although Dove grew by the numbers Martin mentions $2.5bn to $4bn between 2004 and 2014 cited here I don’t know if that is a lot or not, seems a lot doesn’t it?  In 10 years revenues grew by 62.5% but not its steepest growth to date.

I also will never know if it would have grown more or less if it had stuck with its more rational style product benefit campaign? And why does Unilever continue to push rational messaging at all? Will they bother inventing better soap? Surely it’s cheaper to push brand messages than look at product development that takes years and years?

Having said that my biggest bugbear with the campaign is that it has become a crusade by Unilever and I think it is disingenuous campaign and is beginning to show signs of flagging, see here.

The Dove campaign moved into the territory of getting involved with social issues of low self esteem in young girls (see here) as well as for women with its patches ad / content here, attempting to position themselves as an agent of change. 

All this despite the fact that it appears that Dove has in fact used photoshop in some of its ads, see here. Not to mention Unilever are simultaneously okay with Lynx and Axe ads featuring women like this, or selling skin whitening creams in India, like this. It’s as if they only really care about the money, and I’m more okay with that in fact than I am with their attempt to position themselves as opposers of women’s demeaning portrayal in the media / advertising.

More and more brands it seems wish to become agents of social change, not content with providing great products, which they are, they seek to fill a gap that seems to exist in current western societies. 

I’m far from convinced that brand owners are the right institutions for dealing with the ills of modern society, but making deodorants that last longer or soaps that are neutral ph are more than okay with me. I think they should be proud of their products and develop more and tell us why, albeit in interesting, entertaining and surprising ways.

There will always be unanswered questions. But hopefully I have made a valid attempt to answer Martin’s challenge?

My take is that I don’t think Dove as a campaign is devoid of reason, talking about beauty and women seems congruent with their product range. Also I think understanding a brand’s positioning in context is helpful, in order to understand how it got to where it is. Often its original reason / benefit helped them grow market share. 

1 comment:

  1. On a sidenote, I've noticed SJW's (social justice warrior) popping up in different areas as well. These people often hijack well trodden paths, like gender equality, and make it their crusade even though the particular field of subject doesn't need it nor will it benefit from having that conversation.

    It's patronising to everyone involved and pushes all the wrong buttons in people. I'd agree that brands should concentrate on selling their product, not making an issue out of a non-issue, as they did with the "like-a-girl" video.


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