Dove Beauty Campaign

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Dove Real Beauty: Changing the way beauty is advertised

By: Carly Lang, Alaina Taylor, Karli Kennedy, Donald Leslie, and Kellie Wirpio

Background: Why Real Beauty

Dove is a personal care product manufacturer started in 1957 by U.K. parent company Unilever. Originally, Dove produced a soap bar in competition with other companies. Over the years Dove has expanded product lines to include several other beauty care products. Currently, Dove is produced in more than 80 countries and sold in over 20 countries including the United States, South Africa and Thailand.

In the early 2000’s, Dove executives wanted to change the conversation of women’s beauty. Typically, advertisers used very young models that likely had no use for the products they represented. The models were atypical and caused self-esteem issues to the majority of women. Timeline

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was inspired by a photography exhibit in Toronto, “Beyond Compare: Women Photographers On Real Beauty” (Bahadur).The campaign was officially launched in 2004 with the goal to feature real women rather than models and actresses. Dove sought to create a more realistic and more widely accepted vision of women’s bodies in media (Clingan).Dove’s ad campaign continued expanding to including more marginalized groups. In 2007, the company began focusing on older women in ads, keeping with the nontraditional beauty theme (Clingan).Dove continued to adhere to this message of female empowerment throughout the following years. In 2013, Dove released a TV ad showcasing women describing themselves to forensic artists, then comparing the results of the sketch to how they look in real life. Dove introduced a social media campaign in 2015 that encouraged women to use social platforms to speak more positively about themselves (“Dove Social Media Campaign”). In October of 2017, Dove released a Facebook ad depicting women removing layers of clothing, each layer depicting a different race. Public outcry labeled the ads as racist (Ogunyemi).

Partnerships: Advocating Together

Over the course of this campaign Dove employed Edelman and Ogivly & Mather as the two primary agencies running the campaign.  According to Dove’s website, the company has partnered with many local groups in communities to promote this campaign. Dove also partnered with Mario Testino, a world renowned fashion photographer, to shoot a portrait series of 32 diverse women to be used in the real beauty campaign (Mackenzie). Following the partnership with Testino, Dove teamed up with Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes to create the Real Beauty content studio. Rhimes holds the title of creative director at the studio. The studio is used as a space for women to share their stories for potential use in a Dove video (Shayon).

In order to further change the conversation about women’s appearance, Dove partnered with groups such as Girls Scouts, Boys & Girls Club of America, and Girls organize activities. Within these activities they talked about cyber bullying and photography projects that capture the women around them.

R.A.C.E. Process

Research: Dove’s campaign is one of the few cases we have looked at to have concrete research backing decisions. The campaign was inspired by a vision to create a narrative in beauty advertising that was more accepting and celebratory of women of all ages and sizes. Dove’s team conducted research to support this vision and the necessity for such a campaign. Dove commissioned Dr. Nancy Etcoff to perform a survey of 3,200 women to gain insight into how women view themselves. The survey found that only 3% of women in the United States considered themselves to be beautiful (Etcoff). Dove’s line of new products for real women who have viewed themselves as flawed their whole lives shows a good understanding of the target audience. Dove now provides skin and beauty products for a wide range of demographics. Embracing the diversity of their audience was a smart move that showed genuine enthusiasm for positive change. 📷

Action: Dove’s original 2004 campaign consisted of print ads directly inspired by the Real Beauty Photography exhibit. In these ads were women of all shapes and ethnicities wearing identical white undergarments. In conjunction with the Real Beauty campaign, Dove launched the Dove Self-Esteem Project, an educational program for middle through high school girls to help them build self-esteem (“Our Vision”). Dove has a collection of articles and videos on the official website giving insight on a range of topics. There are resources for mothers on how to help children develop a strong and confident self-image as well as specialized content for young girls. A later ad campaign featured older women with check boxes describing the women’s appearance, to illustrate the power that positive perception and word choice have on perceived beauty (Bold). In later years, Dove created the #SpeakBeautiful campaign to garner more attention across social media platforms. #SpeakBeautiful used a Twitter algorithm to locate tweets in which women were speaking badly about themselves. Non-automated responses were created in real time suggesting alternative positive language to promote empowerment (Dove Social Media Campaign). Dove’s ad campaigns over the years have been well received with few exceptions. Dove experienced some backlash for a body wash ad on Facebook. The ad depicted a black woman transforming into a white woman then another race as each woman removed her shirt (Astor). People on social media voiced concerns that the ad depicted black women as dirty and, after using Dove soap would then be as clean as a white woman. Dove responded by removing the ad from circulation and tweeting that it was not intended to offend, the goal was to celebrate diversity in women.

Communication: Dove’s campaign goal was to eliminate negative body images perpetuated by unrealistic expectations upheld by traditional advertising. The mission statement on Dove’s official website was changed: “We believe beauty should be a source of confidence, and not anxiety.” Dove leadership also stressed the hope to help women establish a “positive relationship with the way they look.” (Our Vision). Dove published a series of ads on YouTube depicting a forensic artist drawing women based on how they described themselves. The YouTube ads were extremely effective, as they were shared over countless social media platforms, and reached an extremely wide audience. This was likely the most memorable move of the campaign, and has become synonymous with the Real Beauty vision. Dove did experience a slight lapse in public approval with the Facebook ad mentioned. Representatives responded to the situation directly and in a timely manner. The black woman featured in the ad, Lola Ogunyemi, wrote an article about the controversial ad. In the article, Ogunyemi stated that she had been shown the complete ad before it was released. She felt that the small snippets circulating the internet took the ad out of context (Ogunyemi).  Dove has been able to promote a consistent message of empowerment, using a variety of channels including video ads, social media and print ads to reach women of all age ranges. Dove’s promotional message is also very individual-driven. The use of natural women, not models, allowed the company to generate a new conversation to help all women feel comfortable in their bodies and stop emulating atypical models widely used in the beauty industry. This new conversation resonated well with consumers.

Evaluation: These campaigns are widely discussed even 10 years after being released. This speaks volumes about the impact of the message. Directly after the campaign launched, Dove saw a 24 percent increase in sales. The forensic artist video ad is also one of the most viewed ads of all time, currently at 68 million views on YouTube. While receiving much praise from the general public via social media, the campaign was also a huge hit amongst trade publications; Ad Age named it the #1 advertising campaign of the 21st century (Neff).


Strengths: The bold stance on body image empowerment improved sales remarkably (by 24%) and won Dove a multitude of ad awards. Over the past 10 years Dove has managed to sell about $4 billion in products largely thanks to this campaign (Neff).  

With the power of positive advertising towards women of all sizes, Dove transformed its reputation completely and earned respect from consumers. This message has resonated with women around the world and continues to be a staple of the Dove franchise.

Although the empowerment of women was a clear goal for Dove, the company also used a marketing tactic that has been proven to entice consumers and increase sales. Playing upon the emotions of the consumer by making the advertising relatable to life. This is a common theme utilized by successful companies. Lyndsey Morel of Syracrus University said that,  “96% of consumers learn about a cause through marketing communications. The advertisement should not only inform, but should additionally seek to develop an emotional connection with the customer.” Using emotion and heartfelt encouragement with a sensitive subject allowed Dove to establish and market the brand as a caring company, therefore, resulting in a major increase in sales and positive reputation.

Weaknesses: One of the major weaknesses of this campaign is that the women depicted in the ads are still conventionally attractive, even those deemed “curvy” are still relatively small. Those women who still don’t see their skin color or body shape represented could feel even more alienated (good bad and the ugly). With traditional ads, there is still a level of separation; we know those women are representing an unrealistic standard. Other weaknesses include racial tendencies as the ads still heavily feature white women over all other ethnicities. Dove released a problematic ad for their lotion, depicting a black woman using the lotion, then taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman. Viewers found this ad to be astonishingly insensitive, especially given that diversity and inclusion are the values Dove claims to embody. This, combined with Dove’s affiliation with Fair and Lovely, a lotion marketed as being “skin-lightening” reflects a consistent disrespect for women of color (Bahadur). There was a significant amount of a backlash on social media following the release of the ad, Dove apologized quickly after. Dove’s parent company, Unilever, also owns Axe, which was known to promote sexist and objectifying ads (Said). This partnership could be seen as a betrayal to the values that Dove claims to hold.

Opportunities: Aerie, an apparel company began their empowering campaign entitled, #AerieREAL in 2014 and has made a massive amount of sales along with a positive and solid reputation in the market. Last year, Aerie was valued at $500 million, up from $200 million in 2017. The company is gunning for a $1 billion valuation over the next few years. (Ell)

With the predicted boom to the market that Aerie has said to expect in the upcoming years, there will be an opportunity for Dove to collaborate with the company. Both companies have a goal of encouraging women to embrace their bodies with advertise to all women of all shapes, sizes and skin color. With this partnership, sales should expect to jump for both companies with further advertising and joint ventures.

A recent study shows that the majority of young women who were previous consumers of Victoria’s Secret are now shopping with Aerie because of their untouched advertising of real women. (Hanbury) This can be a major breakthrough for Dove’s future market as it could allow the company to reach a new age group of women, opening up a larger demographic of consumers for Dove’s sales and advertising collectively.

Threats: Although Dove is often considered one of the best in skin care products, it does face quite a bit of competition in regards to the wide range of choices many men and women have. Companies like Olay, Nivea, and L’Oreal are only a few of the long list that Dove is competing with for that top spot in skin care. With a plethora of competition, there is a ton of room for error and push back within the market. Poor use of strategies and tactics could cause a loss of market share, consumers have a whole slew of other companies to buy skin care products from.

Olay is one of Dove’s biggest competitors as it offers similar products and has a large following as well. Thought the companies are very similar, Olay tends to venture more into creating new products via evolving science in the skin care industry. Dove depends largely on reliable products that have sold well. Consumers seeking new products will likely be drawn away from Dove. Having the same campaign for a decade could become stale to consumers.  

Real Women, Real Beauty

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign target audience is women. Doves most popular user age demographics are typically under 24 to 44. These users tend to be from low to middle class incomes and most often purchase Dove products from drug, club or dollar stores. The most popular three demographics that purchase Dove products are of African American, Asian or Hispanic descent (Dove Demographics). In the case of the Real Beauty campaign, Dove looks to extend their target audience to all women under any demographic. The point of the campaign advocates for the equal representation of women of all shapes, sizes and color in advertisements. Dove wants to show real women what the media portrays as beautiful doesn’t have to be one static answer.

Dove’s Beauty Stats

According to current statistics gathered on Dove’s official website:

Only four percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful (up from three percent in 2004). Only 11 percent of girls, globally, are comfortable describing themselves as ‘beautiful.’ 72 percent of girls feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful. 80 percent of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful, but do not see their own beauty. More than half of women globally (54 percent) agree that when it comes to how they look, they are their own worst beauty critic.

The results of surveying 3,200 women confirmed what the company suspected—only 2 percent of women worldwide considered themselves beautiful. (Jeffers)

Objectives: No More Objectifying

The business objective for Dove was to become as much of an iconic company as the likes of Nike, Starbucks and others through aligning the company with a powerful message. Dove’s strategy became centered around making all women feel beautiful (Our Vision). Dove also found that 69 percent of women felt that they are not represented in the media (Real Beauty Productions). Through equal representation in branding and advertisements Dove’s goal is to instigate change and increase the amount of women who feel beautiful and represented in media.

In December 2017, Dove revamped the Real Beauty campaign with new specific objectives following the racist advertisement that received so much backlash. Dove pledged to never feature models, reflect the populations diversity, use zero digital distortion, get each woman’s approval of images used and help the next generation build body confidence and self-esteem. Dove’s updated mission statement also claimed the company had educated 20 million young people in the last 10 years and hopes to double that number by 2020, just three years later (Announcing the Dove).

While Dove does aim to make a statement and instigate change in the industry as a company with the right ethics in mind, they do also hope to keep the customer loyalty as well as bring in new customers, ultimately rising the sales and the overall popularity and brand recognition of Dove.

Dove’s New Solution(s)

The first problem that needed to be addressed by Dove was the backlash they received for the perceived racist advertisement. Dove changed the campaign objectives to show this was important to overcome. However, Dove could have taken more preventative steps to avoid this outcome and outrage, by changing the order in which the women appeared in the ad. The ad could have potentially had the white woman first, transforming into the other races in order to highlight the shift of what society has seen and what Dove is transforming the beauty industry into-- a brand that celebrates diversity, and is breaking free from white-washed ads.

Another area of potential improvement relates to Dove’s website. On the site, Dove claims to have many partnerships in local communities, but did not list any specifically. A great opportunity for Dove to make this campaign seem more authentic (inspired by the desire to create goodwill, not just capital gain) could be reaching out to teachers that use the educational tools and templates provided online by Dove to be featured in their video advertisements. Instead of filming in a studio, Dove should go to the teachers’ schools and film the education process while it happens, highlighting more of the personal “everyday user”  impact this campaign has. This would allow the campaign to take their “no actors” angle even further.

Dove could also consider partnering with other brands to make their mission statement seem more authentic. It will show that the brand is looking for change all across the beauty aisles and brands, not just Dove’s own. Dove could publicly seek out other brands that are willing to take a stand to promote body positivity. Other brands have followed Dove’s model including Pantene’s “Labels against women” as well as Aerie and their parent company American Eagle. They have a range of models of different body types and promote the fact that the photos they use for the ads of their underwear and lingerie are completely unedited.

How to Instigate Change

These proposed solutions can be achieved by doing more research on everyday women who are taking part in Dove’s campaign and authentically covering their story in a more relaxed sense, as opposed to bringing them to Dove’s studio. One of Dove’s goals was to gain approval from a diverse range of women, but, unfortunately missed the mark. Dove can communicate inclusivity through commercials and films. The campaign can also be spread through social media platforms and news releases.

Dove should consider utilizing influencer power on social media.

Instagram has many body positive influencers. This could be a possible medium that can communicate the idea of body positivity with Dove. Many women use Instagram daily. By choosing a body positive influencer, Dove can keep the body positive message while teaming with someone users look up to.

Here is an example of an influencer who correlates with Dove and the push for body positivity. This influencer has countless posts on how she had struggled with anorexia, and how to be body positive and not put yourself down. Dove could spread ideas and communicate a message through people who already have a following for being authentically themselves.

Works Cited

Astor, Maggie. “Dove Drops Ad Accused of Racism.” The New York Times. 8 Oct. 2017.

“Announcing the Dove Real Beauty Pledge.” Unilever Global Company Website, Unilever, 3

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Bahadur, Nina. “Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign Turns 10: How A Brand Tried To Change The

Conversation About Female Beauty.” Huffington Post. 6 Dec. 2017.

Bold, Ben. “When Dove got Real: The history of a brand turnaround.” 17 June,


Celebre, Angela., Denton, Ashley. “The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Dove Beauty

Campaign for Real Beauty.” The Inquisitive Mind. 2014. Vol. 2, Issue 19

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20 Oct. 2008.

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“Dove Social Media Campaign: #SpeakBeautifulD.A.N. 21 Feb. 2015.

Ell, Kellie. “How Aerie Is Using Social Media to Cater to 'More Authentic' Women with Fuller

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Etcoff, Nancy. “The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Approach.” Harvard University Press.

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Hanbury, Mary. “These Photos Reveal Why Women Are Abandoning Victoria's Secret

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and the Brand” Syracuse University Surface. 1 May 2009

Neff, Jack. “The Top 15 Ad Campaigns of the 21st Century.” 12 Jan. 2015.


Ogunyemi, Lola. “I Am the Woman in the 'Racist Dove Ad'. I Am Not a Victim | Lola Ogunyemi.”

The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Oct. 2017,

“Our Vision.” Dove , Unilever,

Mackenzie, Macaela. “The Latest Dove Real Beauty Campaign Is Next Level Realness.” Allure, 26 May 2017,

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Said, Sammy. “The Controversy Behind Conflicting Messages from Axe and Dove.” TheRichest,

TheRichest, 2 Aug. 2013,

Shayon, Sheila. “Dove Launches Real Beauty Content Studio With Shonda Rhimes.”

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