My favourite campaign is Dove's ad for real beauty: Soumitra Karnik

Topics ad campaigns

Which is your favourite campaign and why?

There are so many of them but if I absolutely must abandon the rest and choose to be marooned on an island with just one, I’d choose Dove’s campaign for real beauty. 

A false and unidimensional idea of what beauty should be had been thrust upon us and lorded over for a very long time. It was wrong and it needed to be corrected. This particular Dove campaign delivered a nasty sting and managed to loosen the vicious grip we were all in. Women, yes, but it spoke to men too in an altogether different way. It started in a true sense, an honest and powerful international dialogue on what real beauty is and should be. 

On what parameters did you base your decision?

First and foremost, advertising’s job is to sell the product. I learnt that Dove was a brand in decline. It was seen as old and unchanging. Their most well-known product, the Dove beauty bar, was in the showers of the elderly. Dove recognised that without change, their brand would become irrelevant and slowly die with its users. Dove aimed to reach a younger demographic without alienating their current consumers. It is usually the youngsters who actively believe that the world handed to them is not the best place to live in and can be changed and must be changed to their liking. 

At the back of this, “cause-marketing” was brought in. Their research threw an alarming fact at them that only 2 per cent of women worldwide chose to describe their look as beautiful. The much elusive human truth was now validated by research and helped the brand not only reposition itself from a beauty product to a personal care product but also repositioned the competition as “bad” for their damaging portrayal of beauty.

Soumitra Karnik, CCO, Happy mcgarrybowen & Dentsu Impact
The Evolution, Real Beauty Sketches, Onslaught and Amy are works which are simply fantastic for the kind of impact they created. The Dove Self-Esteem fund programme followed it up nicely by conducting mother-daughter workshops to help young girls see themselves as beautiful.

All in all, Dove scored a 10 on 10 for everything they did.

What do you think was the key idea the campaign was trying to drive home?

The key idea was to quash the zeitgeist of the unrealistic idea of beauty. To be seriously concerned about the self-hatred women go through about their bodies. To question what is being forever flashed in our faces from magazines, commercials, billboards, TV shows and movies. The skewed representation of perfect beauty that is airbrushed and photoshopped down to every pixel of the image. Most importantly, “buy my bar of soap because I am not here to judge you or transform you but when you begin to have doubts about your looks, I’ll be right beside you, making you believe that you are the most beautiful woman, in the whole wide world”.

Do you remember the campaign winning any advertising awards? Do you think these awards serve any purpose? 

The Dove campaign for real beauty has won just about everything, everywhere. Evolution has won both the film Grand Prix and the Cyber Grand Prix at Cannes Advertising Awards, probably the first time ever that both awards had been won by one spot. It has won the coveted yellow pencil at D&AD and multiple other awards at other award shows. 

The 2013 Real Beauty Sketches video, as part of the original campaign, won a breathtaking 19 Cannes Lions, including 10 golds, a Titanium Grand Prix and a creative effectiveness award. 

Awards are great motivators for the people who created the winning work. It sets the benchmark, from the best of the world for the rest of the world. It secretly tells the people on the other side that if they’d thought differently, this is how good their own work would have looked. And this is how they would have strutted, had they dared, had they been patient, had they not netted the butterflies in their tummy when they heard a good idea. 

Sometimes there is greater recall for the story than the product or service advertised. Do you feel that was the case with this campaign?

If a brand is based on a strong human truth that is aligned to what the product is capable of delivering, then the risk of the storyline hijacking brand recall may get mitigated. In the case of Dove, it is a bar of soap that is entitled to open a conversation and even advocate the subject of what real beauty should be. Could any other brand of soap have done it? Sure. However, they did not and waited for someone else to take that chance. The team at Unilever took the lead with Dove and soon its competitor P&G found courage to do a similar thing on their brand of sanitary wear, ‘Always’ and launched the much loved, #Likeagirl video which rightfully went viral. 

Did this campaign inspire any of your work? What are your takeaways from the campaign?

Every piece of work which inspires you, influences you in some way. Whether it directly inspired any of our work or not I can’t say. However, it did change the conversations within the meeting rooms and during brainstorming sessions. We are more responsible when it comes to the portrayal of women in our work.

What else could have been done to make the campaign better?

Isn’t it perfect already?

When a soap bar opened a conversation

MY TAKE: It repositioned the competition as “bad” for their damaging portrayal of beauty

Brand: Dove
Year of launch: Early 2000s
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather 



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