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Dove has grown from a US-only soap bar into one of Unilever's biggest global brands. It is now the world's #1 personal cleansing product, and the #3 business in the Anglo-Dutch company's portfolio behind Knorr and Lipton. During the 1990s, the group began to extend the brand across the complete personal care spectrum, and Dove now encompasses a wide range of products from bar soap to facial cleansers, and from deodorants to shampoo-conditioners. Dove has attracted widespread media attention since 2004 for its marketing. That year, Ogilvy & Mather launched a series of ads for Dove portraying the "real beauty" of ordinary women. The brand competes fiercely with Procter & Gamble's Olay, Beiersdorf's Nivea and Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena, all of which have a similarly broad product range. A new line of Dove for Men products was launched in 2010, followed by Baby Dove in 2017.
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Dove is Unilever's biggest personal care brand, and certainly one of the group's most high profile brands in recent years as the result of a clever marketing campaign that has consistently generated headlines and accolades since 2004. Originally positioned in the 1990s as a rival to P&G's Olay, Dove has since moved into less directly competitive markets such as deodorant and haircare, and has established a unique niche as arguably the beauty industry's most down-to-earth, or "real" masterbrand. In 2014, Kantar's Brandz ranking placed Dove as the world's 8th most valuable personal care brand, with an estimated value of $4.8bn, below Nivea and Clinique but above Olay.
Dove's sales were around €3bn globally in 2011, according to figures released by Unilever at the end of that year, and the brand is available in around 100 countries worldwide. Growth was rapid and dynamic in the 1990s and 2000s but has slowed significantly the recent years. At the start of the 1990s, the brand existed only as a soap bar in the US. In 1991, thanks to several years of relentless and aggressive marketing, Dove propelled Unilever into the position of the #1 bar soap manufacturer in the US, toppling Procter & Gamble. Over the next ten years, Unilever progressively rolled the brand out worldwide, introducing a host of spin-off products. The steepest growth occurred between 1998 and 2002 with the launch of Dove-branded deodorants and haircare products, and a massive global rollout. In 2002 alone, for example, the Dove haircare range was introduced in 31 new countries around the globe. Sales topped €1bn in 2000, and €2bn three years later.
The Dove brand now serves as an umbrella for products in four main groups - bar & bodywash, deodorants, skincare lotions and haircare - and more than 100 different lines including facial wipes, firming lotions, shampoos, body washes, anti-ageing cleansers, skin nourishing treatments, underarm deodorant, and several varieties of bar soap. The main Dove brand has also given rise to a set of spin-off ranges such as Dove Firming (to reduce the appearance of cellulite), Dove Silk (a moisturising range containing pure silk), Dove Fresh Touch, Dove Pro-Age (for "mature" skin and hair), and Dove Summer Glow (with self-tanning agents), launched at the end of 2006.
In particular, Dove has attacked segments already dominated by other manufacturers, such as facial skincare, haircare and deodorants. This has led to an escalating rivalry with Procter & Gamble's Olay and Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena. Both those products have reciprocated with their own rolling series of brand extensions. In 2001 the group introduced Dove anti-perspirants in the US, and a shampoo and conditioner line in Asia. Dove haircare products arrived in the US in late 2002, backed with a $110 marketing launch, as well as 30 other countries around the globe. In 2003, the company launched Dove Essential Nutrients facial and body moisturizers in the US market, with a further $50m of spend. Dove Hair Damage Therapy was a significant new product launch in 2011.
However, with few remaining gaps left in the women's personal care market, Dove has turned its attention to men. A new line of Dove Men+Care products was launched in 2010, and has been similarly extended into multiple categories such as skincare, deodorants, haircare and shaving products. The brand launched its first assault on the infant market in 2017 with the introduction of a range of Baby Dove products, in competition with market-leader Johnson's Baby.
Also in 2017, it introduced a range of six different bottle designs in selected markets for its body wash range. These were intended to mirror the different body shapes of its customers from tall and skinny to pear-shaped to fully rounded. However, the concept backfired spectacularly, with the new designs being met by a barrage of online abuse from customers for being "farcical" and "patronising".
Dove remains the leading bar and liquid soap brand in the US, and the clear market leader in body wash with around 24% share. However Olay retains the lead in facial skincare and moisturizers. It was quicker to spin off new products in the early 1990s, and as a result the full Olay range outsells the Dove range in the US, although Dove is bigger in the global market. Olay leads by a small margin in the body wash category, although its lead is much reduced since the mid-1990s. Dove's top five markets in 2002 were the US, Japan, UK, Korea and Brazil. Around 60% of combined sales were generated by Dove cleansing products, with the remaining revenues more or less equally split between hair, deodorant and care products.
According to Advertising Age/Kantar figures, Dove has been Unilever's highest-spending brand in the US for several years, with measured media expenditure in 2016 of $162m, almost double any other group brand. The brand's marketing, presented under the banner of Campaign for Real Beauty, and developed by multiple different offices Ogilvy & Mather, has generated headlines and accolades around the world. For the UK launch of Dove Body Firming in 2004, for example, Ogilvy recruited a group of real women with normal, non-supermodel shapes and persuaded them to strip down to underwear for the cameras. The resulting posters were enormously popular, and were adapted locally for each international market. The same concept has been extended across the other products in the range.
In 2006, promotional film Evolution, created by Ogilvy Canada, generated considerable media attention for the brand and went on to win a Grand Prix in the film category at the 2007 Cannes Lions advertising festival. A follow-up, Onslaught, was less well received. Unilever was subsequently caught in a media crossfire, accused of hypocrisy because its advertising for another brand, Axe/Lynx, tended to present women as little more than sex objects, apparently contradicting the "real beauty" message put forward by Dove's marketing. In 2008, the brand was again the subject of unflattering headlines after comments in an interview with a celebrated photographic artist who had worked on elements of the campaign were misrepresented to suggest that images of the real beauty women had been retouched. This was strongly denied by all concerned with the ads.
Later in 2008, there were reports that, despite the huge volumes of PR associated with "real beauty", it had not led to a proportionate increase in sales. Mid-year, Unilever was said to be considering a change in its marketing to focus once again on the core product values rather that a more indirect emotional message. Instead, the "real beauty" concept has evolved into a campaign to support self-esteem among girls and younger women through charitable initiatives. One of the more high-profile recent initiatives was the 2012 launch of The Dove Ad Makeover, an online campaign originated by Ogilvy in Australia and the UK, to crowd out Facebook ads that prey on women's insecurities with Dove-sponsored "feel good" messages.
In early 2009, Unilever began exploring a new strategy in China, where the "real beauty" concept had never caught consumer interest. The group acquired local rights to the format of American comedy series Ugly Betty, and remade it for Chinese television (as "Ugly Wudi") with heavy product placement of Dove and other group brands. The creation of a new advertising campaign for the Dove brand was a key plot point running through several episodes.
The formula for Dove was originally developed during World War II. It was actually designed for the US Army, which required a detergent for soldiers that would lather with sea-water. After the war, scientists at Lever Brothers continued to experiment with the formulation in a bid to reduce the scum produced by ordinary detergents. However the original product was found to have an unfortunate irritant effect on skin. To counter that, Lever's researchers added stearic acid, one of the main ingredients in cold cream, to the mix. The resulting combination, part-skin cream and part-soap, offered huge marketing opportunities, and it was launched in the US in 1956, priced at twice the cost of the company's existing Lux soap. The accompanying advertising, from what was then the agency Hewitt Ogilvy Benson & Mather, promised that "Dove creams your skin while you wash" and "Soap is suddenly old-fashioned". That approach proved hugely successful, quickly establishing Dove as a core household brand. It was marketed primarily for facial cleansing, with that the fact that it doesn't dry out the skin as its key selling point. "Real women" were first used in its marketing from the late 1960s, endorsing its benefits for what was supposedly a hidden camera.
In 1965, Unilever attempted to broaden its portfolio by extending the Dove brand into dishwashing liquid in a bid to compete with Palmolive dishwashing liquid which claimed to "soften hands while you do dishes". However the new line was not a success, and the company dropped its price. This created something of a contradiction for the brand, since Dove bar-soap was positioned as a premium beauty product, while Dove dishwashing liquid was perceived as a low-price household cleaner. These two conflicting messages seemed to confuse consumers and gradually the product began to lose market share, battered by competition from Dial and another Unilever brand, Caress. Although Dove soap had already been launched successfully in Canada, plans to introduce the product in Europe were abandoned in the light of its declining US sales.
In 1979, however, Dove received a huge boost when an influential independent survey from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that Dove dried and irritated skin significantly less than other soaps. This encouraged Unilever to mount an extensive marketing programme promoting the brand to dermatologists. (Even as recently as 2004, Unilever claimed that 25% of Dove users said they bought the soap because a doctor recommended it). On the back of this medical endorsement, Dove's sales soared once more. In 1986, the brand became the best-selling soap brand in the US, over-taking Dial and P&G's Ivory.
New competitive pressures came in 1990. That year, the patent on the primary synthetic ingredient in Dove expired, allowing competitors to leap into the synthetic cleanser market for the first time. Procter & Gamble was the most aggressive of these new rivals, borrowing the synthetic cleanser technology to create an Oil of Olay beauty bar with moisturizing properties similar to Dove. After testing in 1991 and 1992, the Olay bar was launched in 1993, followed by a hugely successful body wash in 1994. Unilever countered a year later with their own Dove body wash. However, this proved a big disappointment. Even Unilever's own developers later conceded that their product was inferior to the Olay body wash, more like a shampoo than a soap. After a series of reformulations, an improved and arguably superior Dove body wash was introduced in 1999.
However that year, bolstered by a string of further product extensions, Olay brand sales overtook Dove in the US. In response the Anglo-Dutch company began developing a new brand line that would combine Dove's moisturizing and cleansing properties with "skin nourishing" Vitamin E. The Nutrium range was introduced in 2000, initially as a body wash and later as a soap bar. A flood of further brand extensions followed as Dove entered the deodorant, haircare and facial cleaning markets. The launch of the "real women" campaign in 2004, and its evolution into the Campaign For Real Beauty, gave further support to Dove's sales.
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