Marina and Amy’s Case Study: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty


Dove, part of the greater Unilever company, began as a beauty brand fifty years ago, in 1955. While we think of Dove as a brand that has commissioned many beauty products for women, they originally launched with one revolutionary product that we still know today—the beauty bar. Their product was one that offered a superior alternative to soap, and promised to enhance beauty and moisturize skin in a way that normal soap could not. “It went beyond mere ‘soap’ to enhance the American woman’s beauty” (“50 Years of Dove”). Dove used revolutionary marketing strategies through the fifties and into the sixties, such as television ads (a new media in that age), celebrity spokespeople and product placement on popular television shows, and promoted something they called the “Dove Face Test,” in which they used “real” women in television and magazine testimonials to promote their beauty bar (“50 Years of Dove”).

Their focus on the “real woman” in their current ad campaign is not new; they began using this image in their original Face Tests and magazine testimonials, and it caught the attention of American women. “More women heard Dove’s promise [of real beauty], more women tried it—and were converted” (“50 Years of Dove”).

Digital image. Camay Von Furstenburg. N.p., 26 May 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <;.

Also not new is Dove’s work with Ogilvy and Mather, the ad agency that helped them launch their Campaign for Real Beauty. “Dubbed ‘Product X’ in early 1953, the Dove Beauty Bar was a new product in a trifecta of Lever Brothers accounts hard-won by David Ogilvy, then a young ad exec for Hewett, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather, Inc” (“50 Years of Dove”). David Ogilvy and his current company Ogilvy and Mather went on to become one of the biggest ad agencies in the world. “Starting with no clients and a staff of two, he built his company into one of the eight largest advertising networks in the world. Today it has more than 450 offices in 169 cities” (“Our History”). Ogilvy’s success came from his unwavering belief in three principles: quality and diversity of the people, quality and class of the operation, and the power of branding. These beliefs solidified him and his company as advertising leaders while they built the brands of “American Express, Sears, Ford, Shell, Barbie, Pond’s, Dove, and Maxwell House among them, and more recently, IBM and Kodak” (“Our History”).

In the 2000’s, Dove continued their quest for innovation of and emphasis on genuine beauty by launching the “Real Curves” campaign promoting the Dove Firming Lotion in Europe (“Our History”). The success of this campaign led to Dove’s legendary global report on women and beauty, mentioned later, called “The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report”. This global report inspired their greater campaign and the focus of this study: the “Campaign for Real Beauty.”


            As mentioned above, the “Real Curves” campaign conducted by Dove Europe and “The Real Truth About Beauty” report conducted by Dove both inspired their decade-long Campaign for Real Beauty. Their global report is roughly fifty pages of “quantitative data collected from a global study of 3,200 women, aged 18 to 64,” which focuses on what beauty means to women worldwide (Etcoff et al.) As this study and the campaign were both launched in 2004, their goals and efforts are essentially synonymous. On Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty web home page, they declare that, based on their report, “only 2% of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful,” and it is their mission to, “[employ] various communications vehicles to challenge beauty stereotypes and invite women to join a discussion about beauty” (Unilever: Dove). Furthermore, in the report itself, they explain, “Dove’s mission, in commissioning The Real Truth About Beauty study, was to explore empirically what beauty means to women today and why that is,” (Etcoff et al). Though obviously not explicitly stated anywhere, one may assume there is monetary motivation at work as well, as Unilever/Dove is a global brand. Through this worldwide, positivity-fueled campaign, more women would appreciate their brand and therefore buy their products. This 10-year campaign (still going today) has also likely branded Dove as a progressive, body-positive company and their viral ads have since become ones to recognize. “By doing this,” says the Dove Global Brand Director Sylvia Lagnado, “Dove can not only help women feel beautiful every day, we can help them lead more satisfied lives” (Etcoff et. al).


Dove’s campaign is a dynamic and long withstanding one. It launched eleven years ago and has become one of the most well-known ad campaigns today. Below, we break down the campaign’s efforts year by year. The yearly updates to their campaign as a whole allowed them to continuously tackle their message from a different angle, perhaps picking up new niches of supporters annually.

The Campaign for Real Beauty launched in 2004 with a visual campaign. Their ads depicted real, “flawed” women with captions such as “Wrinkled or wonderful?” and “Flawed or fabulous?” (“The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty”). These original images are the ones that solidified the current era of Dove’s “body positive” branding that we recognize now.


Digital image. Petapixel. N.p., 31 July 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2015. <;.

In 2005, the most iconic phase of Dove’s campaign was phased in: the six “real” women stacked into a landscape photo that we’ve all come to relate to Dove. “The phase of the campaign was created to debunk the stereotype that only thin is beautiful and it drove thousands of women to to discuss beauty issues” (“The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty”).

Embargoed to 0001 Friday November 27 Undated file handout photo from 'Dove' of model from their advertising campaign that used

Digital image. Huffington Post. N.p., 21 Jan. 14. Web. 26 Sept. 2015. <;.

In 2006, Spain put a ban on overly thin models. “In response, Dove produced a compelling short film, Evolution, depicting the transformation of a real woman into a model and promoting awareness of how unrealistic perceptions of beauty are created,”

(“The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty”). The video went viral on Youtube and is still viewed today—even in some college classrooms.

Dove. “Dove Evolution: With some images, all is not what it seems.” Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 25. Sept. 2015.

Dove reached out to celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz in 2007, and chose to focus on the beauty in aging. Their study Beauty Comes of Age that year found that “91% of women ages 50–64 believe it is time for society to change its views about women and aging” (“The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty”). The campaign praised common signs of aging, such as wrinkles, blemishes, grey hair and age spots.


Digital image. Womenology. N.p., 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 30 Sep. 2015. <;.

dove-pro-age-merineteDigital image. Advertising for Adults. N.p., 20 Feb. 2007. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <;.


Digital image. Adme. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <>.

Also in 2007, Dove wanted to focus on the entertainment industry’s effect on young girls. They produced the short film “Onslaught”, which examined the idea that “girls are bombarded with unrealistic, unattainable images and images of beauty that impact their self-esteem” (“The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty”).

Born Squishy. “Dove-Onslaught.” Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 3 Apr. 2008. Web. 30. Sept. 2015.

Perhaps one of the most recent and well-known social media-based parts of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is their series of Beauty Sketches published on Youtube in 2013. In the videos, a forensic sketch artist draws two sketches: a woman as she describes herself to him and the same woman as others describe her. This exercise is done with numerous subjects and is meant to prove to women that they are more beautiful than they give themselves credit for. “Crows feet, big jaws, protruding chins and dark circles are just some of the many physical features that women criticized about themselves” reported Tanzina Vega of The New York Times in 2013 (Vega).

Dove. “Dove Real Beauty Sketches: You’re More Beautiful than You Think.” Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 25. Sept. 2015.

According to Fernando Machado, VP of Dove Skin, “The moment that the Dove Real Beauty Sketches film was uploaded to the Dove YouTube page, it quickly started to gain traction around the world with men, women, media and even other brands sharing the film” (“Dove Real Beauty Sketches…”). Within a month, the Real Beauty Sketches went on to become the most viewed online video ad ever; it has been viewed more than 114 million times in 25 languages to 33 Dove YouTube Channels in over 110 countries, became the third most-shared video ad of all time and “has generated almost four billion PR and blogger media impressions, which continue to increase daily” (“Dove Real Beauty Sketches…”).


Digital image. Beyond PR. N.p., 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <;.


Digital image. MSL Group. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2015. <;.


Though some critics took issue with the authenticity of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty (outlined later in our study), from a marketing perspective, Dove has been successful. Dove’s campaign team was smart with making the campaign accessible to a wide variety of people. As mentioned above, Dove made sure that their campaign was accessible in 110 countries with translations for 25 different languages (“Dove Real Beauty Sketches…”). The worldwide accessibility Dove provided helped boost the publicity of the campaign and enforces their idea that beauty is diverse and defined from within. The campaign has received a great deal of publicity through many different vehicles, including 121 print features, 484 major broadcast news and lifestyle segments, and thousands of online articles— the online articles alone caused hundreds of thousands of comments, likes and shares (“Dove Real Beauty Sketches…”).

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty also received free publicity on a variety of television shows and other forms of media that comes to an estimated value of one-hundred and fifty-million dollars in advertising (Celebre and Waggoner Denton). The video ad Dove created went viral and is still circulating online; “Real Beauty Sketches” has been labeled as one of the most viral videos ever (Chumsky). In a matter of one month’s time, the “Real Beauty Sketches” video ad had pulled the highest number of views for an online video ad ever— it had more than 144 million total views (Celebre and Waggoner Denton). Another video, titled “Choose Beautiful,” was also highly viewed with a modestly-viral five million Youtube views (Chumsky).

Success can also be found in the sales Dove received as a result of the campaign and in the awards they won due to the publicity of the campaign. Before the campaign, Dove’s net earnings were around two and a half billion dollars (Chumsky). By 2014 (about ten years into the campaign), Dove’s earnings increased to four billion dollars—that’s almost double what it was prior to the campaign (Neff). An increase in these sales can be accredited the message of the campaign. People started buying Dove’s products because of the “Real Beauty” message, rather than their products’ quality or results (Celebre and Waggoner Denton). These ads also caused an increase in consumer trust, which led to a higher number of Dove products being purchased (Celebre and Waggoner Denton). In the midst of the popularity of “Real Beauty Sketches,” Ad Age named the Campaign for Real Beauty “The Best Advertising Campaign of the 21st Century” (Chumsky).

Dove did not merely succeed in their extraordinary branding efforts and excelling in proving their own beauty-positive outlook, but it also changed how women around the world saw beauty in relation to themselves (Skene). In Dove’s original “Real Truth About Beauty” report, a slim two percent of the world’s population of women thought they were beautiful (Skene). In 2011, after the campaign had been going on for some time, the company revisited the topics from the original study. The new study (called “The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited”) shows that four percent of women around the world now believe they are beautiful (Chumsky). Two percent may sound like a slim increase, but when you’re talking about two percent of thousands of people, that is a significant increase. Nancy Etcoff of Harvard University, and one of the main contributors to both of Dove’s Global Beauty Reports, confirms that It is apparent that the Campaign for Real Beauty shifted the beauty standards and stereotypes that women around the world consume (Neff).

Even though Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty raised some issues with critics, the campaign overall can be seen as a success. The campaign received a wide variety of publicity. This publicity, in turn, caused a large increase in Dove’s sales. The campaign can also be seen as a success because it did indeed reach one of its major goals, the goal of changing and challenging the typical beauty standards.


In the beginning, critics and other others alike rallied around Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. The majority of people believed that the message behind Dove’s campaign was one of good intention and good heart (Celebre and Waggoner Denton). The message that Dove was trying to portray was one that challenged typical beauty standards and stereotypes and its audience believed that this campaign was starting a global conversation of what real beauty actually is (Celebre and Waggoner Denton).

Unfortunately, there are a few issues with the report that the Campaign for Real Beauty was based on. In their own case study on the campaign, Laurel Dicus and her colleagues pointed out some flaws in the diversity data: while the report was allegedly “global,” there was a higher number of interviews conducted in the U.S. than in any other countries, and outside of the U.S. surveys only 10 other countries were polled, with no African or Oceanic countries and only one Asian country (Dicus et al.) Furthermore, Dicus and colleagues say, this not-quite-so-diverse sample population of only 3,200 people was then projected as a global sample of 7 billion. This is problematic because Dove portrayed the report and its cousin campaign to be culturally all-inclusive, when in reality it was perhaps a poll of mostly-American women and their beauty standards.

Another major issue critics found was with the campaign’s authenticity. The questionable authenticity came from the comparison of the campaign’s message (love yourself) versus the products that Dove sells (better yourself) (Bahadur). Again, Dove falls under the Unilever umbrella, a company which also owns Slimfast and Axe. Both products represent the stereotypical societal norms of physical beauty, yet Dove was supposedly challenging those norms via their Campaign for Real Beauty (Bahadur).

The authenticity of the campaign was also shrouded in a bit of doubt because Dove sells superficial products, like their various beauty creams which highlight thinking about supposed flaws that their purchase is meant to improve (Bahadur). Critics have thusly come to find a contradiction between Dove’s message and how it makes its money. Dove makes the big bucks “in a market that appeals to the young, beautiful, “skinny” stereotype that has infiltrated media and society” (Dicus et al.) Jean Kilbourne, creator of the documentary “Killing Us Softly,” which discusses the portrayal of women in the media, pointed out that one of Dove’s products—a firming cream—probably tears women down more than it empowers them or invites them to think critically about what it means to be beautiful (Bahadur). The production of a firming cream creates the idea that flaws on women’s bodies need to be filled in (Bahadur).

Also, while Dove’s campaign seemingly included a diverse mix of “real women”, the stars of its ads look very good despite their supposed flaws. No women with physical disabilities, blemishes, disproportionate bodies or any deformities were depicted in Dove’s ads. While not models, the women in their ads were the “model” flawed women. Additionally, in some parts of the brand’s campaign, Dove used actresses and actors instead of the real, day-to-day to people it led people to believe it was depicting (O’Reily). For these reasons, critics felt that Dove was actually enforcing the beauty norms that they were claiming to get rid of, and therefore their campaign may have been counteractive (Stampler).

Today, many critics agree that Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was dynamic, with a mix of successful and unsuccessful aspects. The campaign is certainly an extremely successful feat in brand-awareness (Garcia). The campaign was shown on various television shows such as The View and Ellen; it even received free time on various media platforms that totaled a value of one-hundred and fifty-million dollars (Celebre and Waggoner Denton). However, critics say that the campaign was unsuccessful in the way that it did not actually portray the right ideas; Dove’s campaign focused on physical beauty instead of inner beauty (Bahadur).

Works Cited

“50 Years of Dove: The Story of a Brand” 50 Years of Dove: The Story of a Brand (1955-2005) (1957): n. pag. Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide Intranet. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. < >

Bahadur, Nina. “Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign Turns 10: How A Brand Tried To Change The Conversation About Female Beauty.” The Huffington Post., 6 Feb. 14. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <;.

Celebre, Angela, and Ashley Waggoner Denton. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.” Inquisitive Mind. Print.

Chumsky, Susan. “Why Dove’s ‘Choose Beautiful’ Campaign Sparked a Backlash.” Fortune Why Doves Choose Beautiful Campaign Sparked a Backlash Comments. 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. <;.

Dicus, Laurel, Sarah Drexler, Anna-Claire Gibson, and Caleigh Lentz. “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty: A Case Study” N.p., 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <;.

“The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty.” The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty. Dove Inc., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <;.

“Dove Real Beauty Sketches Most Viewed Online Ad.” Dove Real Beauty Sketches Most Viewed Online Ad. 20 May 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2015. <;.

Etcoff, Dr. Nancy, Dr. Susie Orbach, Dr. Jennifer Scott, and Heidi D’Agostino. “”The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report”” (2004): 1-48. Dove, a Unilever Beauty Brand. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <;.

Garcia, Tony. “It’s Time For Dove to Put Its Real Beauty Campaign to Rest.” PRNewser. 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. <;.

Neff, Jack. “Ten Years In, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ Seems to Be Aging Well.” Advertising Age News RSS. 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. <;.

O’Reilly, Lara. “It Looks as Though at Least One of the ‘real Women’ Meant to Be in Dove’s Latest ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ Ad Was an Actress.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 17 Apr. 2015.

“Our History.” Ogilvy and Mather, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <;.

Skene, Kiley. “A PR Case Study: Dove Real Beauty Campaign.” News Generation Radio and TV Media Relations A PR Case Study Dove Real Beauty Campaign Comments. News Generation. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. <;.

Stampler, Laura. “Why People Hate Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ Video.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. < (Stampler)>.

Unilever: Dove. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015. <;.

Vega, Tanzina. “Ad About Women’s Self-Image Creates a Sensation.” The New York Times. N.p., 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2015. <;.

Marina and Amy’s Case Study: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty

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