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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.
Dove's long-serving VP-global brand development Fernando Machado stepped down in 2014 to join Burger King. Laurent Boury is now global brand VP for Dove, based in New York. Brent Shakeshaft is VP, global marketing, Dove cleansing.
Marketers in the UK include Steve Miles (SVP, global marketing, Dove), Victoria Sjardin (senior global director, Dove), Julie Thompson (global digital director, Dove), Catherine Rushton (senior brand manager, Dove masterbrand & skin cleansing), Lucy Howdle (senior global brand development manager, Dove Skin), Neil Brading (senior global brand development manager, Dove Men+Care), Jocelyn Hsieh (senior global brand development manager, Dove Wash), Hannah Burns (senior global brand manager), Rachel Mattey (global brand development manager, Dove Men+Care), Hamish Priest (global media manager, Dove), Nikita Sona (global brand manager, Dove Hair), Raphael Estripeau (global consumer & market insight manager, Dove Hair).
Marketers in the US include Nick Soukas (VP, skin cleansing), Maite Bosch (senior global brand development director, Dove), Jennifer Bremner (brand development director, skin cleansing), Santiago Hunt (global brand development director, Dove Men+Care), Rodrigo Ferrari (global brand development director, Dove Bar), Melissa Grevstad (senior global brand development manager, Dove Men+Care), Augusto Carzon (senior global brand director, Dove Deo), Michelle Taite (global brand development manager, Dove), Maris Johansson (global brand development manager, Dove Bar), Danielle Davis (associate brand manager Dove Men+Care).
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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