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Dove: advertising & marketing profile

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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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Selected Dove advertising

Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

 Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Aug 2018: Ads Of The Week "I'm Fine". Here's a completely new approach from Ogilvy UK for Dove, produced globally in partnership with Cartoon Network. We're already familiar with Dove's well-established goal of promoting self-esteem among women. In an admirable new initiative, this latest campaign targets perhaps the hardest to reach and also most vulnerable demographic of teenage girls, using animated sequences to embody their innermost fears and concerns. Anyone with a teenage daughter of their own will be familiar with that blank "I'm fine" response, and the ensuing worry that there is more to it than that. Inevitably, social media envy plays a significant role. Here's the first of what will eventually be four films, in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, for Dove's main global markets.

Adbrands Weekly Update 12th October 2017: Unilever kicked open a hornet's nest with a three-second digital ad for Dove cleansers, perceived by some viewers as racist. The ad showed a black girl pulling a t-shirt over her head to transform into a white girl, who then pulls off her own shirt to reveal an Indian or Asian girl. Most objective viewers would probably not see this as any sort of deliberate ethnic slur given the appearance of an Indian girl as the third "reveal". However online critics omitted that part of the sequence from their screen grabs, all the better to support their accusations of "whitewashing". Yet whoever signed off the ad at Unilever is guilty of stupidity at the very least. Surely somebody must have seen the potential for trouble here. Though few serious commentators actually accused Unilever of racism, they have quite fairly seized upon the ad as being symptomatic of racial insensitivity within the industry, reflecting the comparative shortage of marketing staffers from ethnic minorities. "Hire more black and brown people," producer Amalia Nicholson told Adweek, "It's really that simple." No one has admitted direct responsibility for the ad, but it is thought to have been produced inhouse rather than by global agency Ogilvy. "The video was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong," said a Unilever spokesperson. "We apologize deeply and sincerely for the offense that it has caused and do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience."

Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Jun 2016: Ads Of The Week "My Beauty My Say". Ogilvy & Mather's latest global ad for Dove adopts a more aggressive stance than usual, perhaps to stand above the myriad other campaigns that have joined the self-esteem bandwagon over the past decade. Whereas previous ads in Dove's long-running campaign have tended to pick over the nature of female self-perception, this latest offers no apologies or doubt or explanation. "I am what I am," these women argue. "Deal with it." Nicely done.

Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Sept 2015: Ads Of The Week "Change One Thing". Here's the excellent new installment in Unilever's still-impressive "Campaign for Real Beauty" for Dove. This latest actually comes from viral shop Evidently rather than main agency Ogilvy, and follows a clever circular route mapped by a succession of girls suggesting the one thing they would change about themselves... which is of course the one thing another girl wishes she had. Truth is, you're never happy with what you've got.

Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Apr 2015: Ads Of The Week "Choose Beautiful". A definite return to form for the latest instalment of Ogilvy's Real Beauty campaign for Dove, after a couple of damp squibs. This one was led by Ogilvy's Chicago office. Women in several cities all over the world were offered the choice between entering a building through the door marked "Beautiful" or one marked "Average". Almost all chose the latter, and were asked to talk about why that was. Very interesting, touching and human.

More from Adbrands Weekly Update


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.

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