Dove Story

I asked a question in a recent blog post about how Field and Binet in their research differentiate between an advert being emotional or rational. Because in some cases they cite ads as being emotional that seem to me to contain reason / rationale or product benefits.

I think Dove is a case in point.

This post is in response to Martin Headon’s blog post challenge. There needs to be much more debate on this area of advertising and so I thank Martin for that - although I reckon we kind of agree to be honest. Frustrating isn’t it?

Although the ad for Dove that Martin drew our attention to here certainly has no product benefit in it, I think the overall award-winning campaign for Dove that focuses on women and beauty does. I’m not sure the ad that deals with shyness is indicative of Dove’s 2004+ campaign to be fair, although clearly part of it.

The Dove ad campaign in question features what you might call every-day women and it talks about what beauty really is. That must be reason enough for a beauty product aimed at every day women, no?

I think there is reason there albeit not as much as it used to focus on say in 1996 here. However, we still see campaigns by Dove post 2010 that returns to product benefit for deodorants here and a product demo here for soap. Not that I love these ads by the way.

There are two areas that I’d like to talk about concerning Dove.

Firstly how it came about as a product and how much of the heavy lifting in terms of growth in market share up to 2004 was done with a different form of reasoning what some may call rational messaging or product demos of sorts.

Within that hopefully I cover Martin’s point – “Perhaps when your competitors are closing in, and your product no longer has a rational point of difference, making an emotional but relevant connection with consumers is the only way to carve a distinctive platform for your brand.”

Secondly there is an arena that Dove and Unilever has stepped into that I really do not agree with which is brands becoming agents of social change.

The history of Dove as documented here on AdAge, which I quote throughput this piece, is fascinating. A patented product up until 1991, Dove started as a soap for soldiers in WWII, then attempted to become a dishwashing liquid in 1965 and failed, note not all brand extensions work.

A major boost came in 1979 when Unilever seized on a report (rational info) that Dove irritated skin less (due to its PH of 7) than other soaps, they used this info to help sell their products.

By 1986 Dove was the #1 soap in the US, so lets not think that Dove just arrived in 2004 this was a big brand already.

Another interesting fact, in 2004 - 25% of Dove Soap users did so because they were recommend to by their GP. Not a bad recommendation I’d say. And I’d wager people would still say they use Dove for this very reason - so why would advertising choose to ignore these selling points?

The real market share battle began in 1991 when Dove’s patent expired and they went head to head with Oil of Olay (another WWII product invention now owned by P&G) who could now discover Dove’s secret ingredient. Why were P&G interested in Dove’s active ingredient? Surely they of all people should know that people buy emotionally - couldn’t they just build a stronger brand - why did they feel the need to get all rational about soap?

All through the 90’s P&G and Unilever were battling it out, Oil of Olay took the lead back for a while and so on and so forth.

The battle really took off with successful brand extensions all through the 90’s. It seems that Dove took one direction and Olay another after 1996. Dove went for deodorants, shower gels, facial cleaners and shampoo and conditioners. Olay went for facial cleansing, face cream, skin hydrating and anti aging lotions although still having ranges of soaps and gels too.

The other massive success of Dove was going global with its range of products and being one of the largest marketing spenders in the Unilever portfolio. The steepest growth occurred between 1998 and 2002 according the article. Does that mean that much of its success was built on Dove marketing its product benefits to a worldwide market prior to 2004?

So although Dove grew by the numbers Martin mentions $2.5bn to $4bn between 2004 and 2014 cited here I don’t know if that is a lot or not, seems a lot doesn’t it?  In 10 years revenues grew by 62.5% but not its steepest growth to date.

I also will never know if it would have grown more or less if it had stuck with its more rational style product benefit campaign? And why does Unilever continue to push rational messaging at all? Will they bother inventing better soap? Surely it’s cheaper to push brand messages than look at product development that takes years and years?

Having said that my biggest bugbear with the campaign is that it has become a crusade by Unilever and I think it is disingenuous campaign and is beginning to show signs of flagging, see here.

The Dove campaign moved into the territory of getting involved with social issues of low self esteem in young girls (see here) as well as for women with its patches ad / content here, attempting to position themselves as an agent of change. 

All this despite the fact that it appears that Dove has in fact used photoshop in some of its ads, see here. Not to mention Unilever are simultaneously okay with Lynx and Axe ads featuring women like this, or selling skin whitening creams in India, like this. It’s as if they only really care about the money, and I’m more okay with that in fact than I am with their attempt to position themselves as opposers of women’s demeaning portrayal in the media / advertising.

More and more brands it seems wish to become agents of social change, not content with providing great products, which they are, they seek to fill a gap that seems to exist in current western societies. 

I’m far from convinced that brand owners are the right institutions for dealing with the ills of modern society, but making deodorants that last longer or soaps that are neutral ph are more than okay with me. I think they should be proud of their products and develop more and tell us why, albeit in interesting, entertaining and surprising ways.

There will always be unanswered questions. But hopefully I have made a valid attempt to answer Martin’s challenge?

My take is that I don’t think Dove as a campaign is devoid of reason, talking about beauty and women seems congruent with their product range. Also I think understanding a brand’s positioning in context is helpful, in order to understand how it got to where it is. Often its original reason / benefit helped them grow market share. 

Throwback Thursday


Here's some classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon intros to feast your eyes on today. Those animations were great, particularly the Flintstones one. A short animated story with lovingly crafted visuals and mini-score.

I Am Hashtag Industry Talking Person

You can see me on YouTube, you can listen to me at a conference. You can read my piece online, on my blog, you can see me quoted on Twitter. I am Hashtag Industry Talking Person.

I arrange words into sentences. Long words, short words, fashionable words, clever-sounding words. Words like programmatic, or conversation, or real-time, or engagement.

My best sentences combine those words together into phrases, like real-time programmatic engagement.

Then I'll throw in a few predictions, well maybe not predictions as such, but I'll talk with authority about what the future will look like.

That will lead to sentences like in the future marketing will be a series of real-time programmatic engagements with the consumer.

I like saying consumer. Quite a lot. I make sure I get consumer into most of my sentences. And creativity. People like hearing the word creativity.

That's why I'll say things like future marketing will engage the consumer in real-time with programmatic creativity.

Brands is another good word. I use brands quite a lot, people pay attention when I say brands in sentences with the other words that I use.

I'll say, for example brands of the future will need to engage in real-time conversations with consumers.

These are some of my best sentences. Lots of people like to retweet these sentences, they'll often hashtag the initials of the latest conference or workshop that I'm talking at #strw #marconf – you get the idea.

I love it when they do that.

I don't make things, but sometimes I'm in a room with people who once made something. That's close enough for me. I don't like to get my hands dirty with making things. I'm more about the words. Hopefully these words provide inspiration for others. And fill column inches.

No, talking is more my thing, or writing down the things that I talk about.

I am Hashtag Industry Talking Person.

Hear me soon at a conference or workshop near you.

Co-operative Bank Tattoo Ad Cringe-Fest



Sometimes an ad comes along that is so misjudged, so ill-conceived, so toe-curlingly bad and just so, er, wrong that it simply cannot be ignored.

If you've been watching prime time television recently you might have been exposed to the advertising shambles that is the new commercial for the Co-operative bank.

You know the one. The one where the embattled bank defiantly demonstrates that its serious commitment to ethics and values is skin deep by showing an intensely unlikeable knob-head having those words tattooed on his back.

It's been labelled as 'edgy' by their chief executive. Probably because it was directed by Tony Kaye.

Well, I think it's about as edgy as a sponge. I think 'negligent' is a far more accurate word to describe it.

In fact it makes we wonder whether it came about during one of ex-boss Paul Flowers' crystal meth and crack binges rather than in any attempt to restore and rebuild trust after the recent shame and scandals that have engulfed the bank.

From a business perspective it certainly makes sense to publicly try to restore trust. However, by producing something so contrived and lacking in sincerity and substance, this commercial actually raises more questions than it answers.

A fluffy, corporate chest-beating brand ad might well make the people inside the Co-operative Bank feel better but the lack of any concrete actions or promises will do little to convince prospective customers and investors.

OK, so they've refused to lend money to businesses that don't meet their ethical standards. So, that's a tiny glimpse into what the Co-op doesn't do. But what do they actually do? What can they say that the everyday person in the street can buy into? What else do they stand for that is genuinely different to other banks? What the bejesus are these inky ethics and values?

Given the suspicion and low esteem in which most banks are held, there's clearly a place for an ethical bank that stands apart from the competition. However it's not just values which are important. It's what a bank offers customer and how it acts and behaves that really matters.

It's just not enough to use advertising to passively remind people that the Co-operative Bank has ethics and values. The communication needs to work much harder to go beyond the superficial and give people a reason to care by showing something far more tangible about their approach to banking.

I can't believe that an organisation coming out of a crisis, especially one that's been losing  money hand over fist, has been so poorly advised to produce something bereft of credibility and belief.

Apparently, a £1.5 billion black hole was found in the Co-operative Bank's accounts. As well as the cash, it's a crying shame that the script for this own-goal of a commercial didn't disappear into the same black hole.

Wow Steve...

... you look like an 'after' in one of those before and after things - and where the fuck has your back fat gone?

What's Wrong With Creative Awards?

I was thinking back to the ad from our Tuesday post, the Lidl price match ad poking fun at Morrisons. These are the kinds of ads that make me frustrated about the current state of creative awards schemes.

That Lidl ad has, rightly, been praised all over the internets by advertising people. It is a proper piece of advertising, an example of advertising smartness and creative craft. But do you think we'll see it win any awards? I doubt it.

And that's the problem. All the awards seem to go to some wizz-bangy execution, or cute art direction, or epic production job that is simple enough for jurors from five continents to get. Whereas less showy ads like this will invariably be overlooked.

Creative awards are rewarding the wrong kind of creativity. They award stylists and big production jobs, not thinking or smartness. They award showy craft over craft that is brilliantly invisible. They award the novel over the excellent.

That's why I don't think creative awards are relevant or useful any more. That's why we don't enter them. And I simply don't care whether some dickhead from Brazil or fashion victim from Shanghai thinks it's super-awesome.

The creative award scheme that awards that Lidl ad, though, that I would consider.

Mercedes-Benz "Dirty Driving"



Yesterday I had the misfortune of seeing this Mercedes Benz thing. I say thing because it ain't an ad, and I refuse to call it content and well, I don't really know what the fuck it is. But thats a subject matter for another day.

Anyway. I was lost for words.

Their vehicles look the business and the film looks great, in that way car film things with great looking cars look great. As you would expect from one of the world's pre-eminent vehicle manufacturers.

But the crude gag seems so misjudged. Mercedes-Benz is a sophisticated brand selling premium products (that van retails at nearly £30k). So their target market isn't teenage boys, (although the youtube comments suggest it is going down well with them). Surely they could have come up with something better than actual car-porn.

I would liked to have been in the meeting where that idea got presented though.

"We want to show the top of the line Mercedes Benz S 63 AMG Coupé and the Actros truck actually making love to produce a Mercedes Van..."