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Reality Check

Would you buy beauty products from these women? Dove's anti-Hollywood advertising approach is proving to be a long-term ringing success at the cash register.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 04/20/2007

Would you buy beauty products from these women? Dove’s anti-Hollywood advertising approach is proving to be a long-term ringing success at the cash register.

Wendy Katzman stars in a national beauty advertising campaign shot by world famous photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Haven’t heard of her? Didn’t think so. When Dove went searching for “stars” for its newest ad campaign, it blazed right past Hollywood on Interstate 405 to find Katzman, a 55-year-old physical therapist in San Francisco. Recruited by a scout while lingering in the sauna at her fitness club, Katzman is one of six “real women” over the age of 50 who appear in the brand’s skin-baring Pro-Age campaign.

Although Katzman considers herself a private person and admits that she wondered how she’d feel if she saw a billboard of herself at a Bay Area Rapid Transit rail station, she shed those concerns, along with her robe, for the photo shoot with Leibovitz. The accompanying ad copy declares: “Too old to be in an antiaging ad. But this is Pro-Age, a new line of skin and hair care from Dove. Beauty has no age limit.”

“It’s a lovely message presented in a beautiful way,” says Katzman.

“I’m not going to dispute the fact these ads are about marketing a new product,” she continues. “But a typical marketing approach would use young, airbrushed models to introduce an antiaging product. Dove has decided to use women over 50 who have gray hair and sun spots. These are real images, and they’re beautiful. They represent strength and confidence.”

That message seems to have struck a chord. Consumers are responding to the Unilever-owned brand’s brazen, anti-Hollywood stance, as it continues to glance over the perfectly coiffed heads of celebrities in favor of real women. The brand has doubled its business over the past five years, reaching $1 billion in U.S. retail sales, according to Kathy O’Brien, Dove’s marketing director. “We have aggressive plans for the next five years and expect to double our business again. We’re slightly ahead of last year’s growth rate.”

One way Dove plans on doing that is by continuing to shatter conventional molds in beauty advertising. “Dove continues to break stereotypes, and age is one of the most prevalent stereotypes out there,” says O’Brien, referring to the brand’s decision to take issue with the industry’s antiaging message and instead present a pro-aging message. Dove asserts that none of the images has been airbrushed or retouched, save for removing a shadow here and there.

The eyebrow-raising Pro-Age campaign, created by Ogilvy & Mather, has surfaced on a billboard in New York’s Times Square and within the pages of glossy magazines. The images were also slated to air on the small screen, but TV executives banned them from their networks because the pictures didn’t meet with their internal “standards and clearances,” said a Dove spokeswoman. The effort ties into Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, a global effort launched in 2004 to broaden current beauty standards.


Dove’s fondness for the Average Jane taps into an emerging marketing tool of consumer-generated content, says Nate Morley, vice president, group creative director of Deutsch Inc. He says that Dove’s realistic pull in a sea of aspirational advertising ties into consumers’ fondness for “mixing and matching,” whether it’s wearing designer jeans and an H&M T-shirt or buying into multiple messages about beauty. “Dove has built an emotional connection with the consumer, but it’s also done a nice thing strategically where it’s separated itself from everyone else in the category,” says Morley, adding that Ray-Ban has taken a similar approach with its “Never Hide” campaign. Introduced in March by projecting homemade images of people wearing Ray-Bans on 12 jumbo screens in Times Square, the company says the effort “portrays regular guys and girls living their everyday lives with authenticity…because the most fashionable thing to be is yourself.”

Still, for many there is an inherent contradiction in Dove’s approach. Says Meenakshi Gigi Durham, associate professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa, “Dove is marketing products, like a thigh-firming cream, by saying ‘Stay just the way you are.’” But, in her view, Dove’s sense of humor about unrealistic expectations is appealing. “Everyone wants to look attractive, but not everyone wants to adhere to the narrow Hollywood definition of beauty,” continues Durham, who teaches classes on gender and sexuality in the media. “Dove is saying you can enjoy your looks without striving for unattainable extremes.”

A number of advertising executives say that the intention of the campaign, while philanthropic to some extent, is ultimately to sell more soap. Dove, it seems, is just getting on a higher soapbox to do it. Many also assert that  Dove’s decision to shatter beauty’s traditional advertising template is an effective way to break through a cluttered marketplace. “The campaign stands out in a crowded landscape,” says David Wolfe, creative director of The Doneger Group. “These days, to grab people’s attention is a miracle. Dove is in the vanguard of what’s going to be realistic advertising aimed at real people.”

Clive Chajet, chairman of Chajet Consultancy, agrees. “Dove’s campaign is a symbol of the revolutionary change that is happening in the marketing world,” he says. Chajet, who helped design the original package for the Dove beauty bar, adds, “It’s a real challenge to keep a brand current, given that the number of brands and media outlets have exploded.”

Dove has attempted to take advantage of that explosion by posting casting calls for real women on its Web site and setting up  chat rooms where women can discuss current beauty standards. A recent effort included a monthlong online contest—promoted on YouTube with a video clip featuring Grey’s Anatomy actress Sara Ramirez—that invited women to create their own 30-second commercial for Cream Oil Body Wash.

The winning ad, featuring a young woman using the body wash in the shower, aired in a commercial break during the 79th annual Academy Awards in February. In the ad, contest winner Lindsay Miller of Sherman Oaks, Calif., asks, “What’s better than knowing you’re beautiful even when no one is looking?”

Dove’s O’Brien notes that the contest generated 1,000 submissions and two million hits on dovecreamoil.com. “The contrast of a real woman’s amateur video against the glitz and glamour of the Oscars was striking,” says O’Brien. The professional ad began airing in early March.

But not every Madison Avenue ad executive is convinced. “I’m so tired of reality. Every now and then a little fantasy doesn’t hurt,” says Charles DeCaro, partner in New York ad agency Laspata/DeCaro. He recalls how Dorian Leigh, the redheaded stunner who appeared in Revlon’s Fire and Ice ad in the Forties, transported consumers to a different mood and time. DeCaro, who had just returned from the Oscars, acknowledges, “Anything that’s done to celebrate women of different ages and sizes should be celebrated because the current standard of beauty is so alien to reality.”

He adds, however, “This is not about saving mankind. The end goal is to sell more soap.”

Dove’s tell-it-like-it-is marketing approach may work for personal care, but some question whether it would be as effective for color cosmetics or hair color. After all, Revlon’s attempt to use older women, wrinkles and all, to peddle its Vital Radiance cosmetics line fell flat. The line was discontinued in September.

“Dove’s mantra is be the best you can be, but not about transforming yourself,” says Gloria Appel, executive vice president, group director at Grey Worldwide New York, where she works with Procter & Gamble’s Clairol, Max Factor and CoverGirl brands. “Color cosmetics and hair color are about transforming yourself, rather than acceptance.”

Appel applauds Dove’s ability to spark a global conversation, though. “The notion of real beauty is something that has always been on women’s minds,” she says, adding that there continues to be a group of consumers who are enamoured with celebrity. “I do give the Dove team a lot of credit for having the courage of their convictions. It has taken a path and continues to stay with it, becoming more audacious along the way.” However, she freely admits, “I still believe in Charles Revson’s idea of ‘hope in a jar.’”

Women Over 50:

91%
believe it is time for society to change its views about women and aging.

92%

believe past generations of women over 50 were not doing the things women over 50 are doing today.

87%
believe they are too young to be old.

Source:  Dove survey