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Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Online Marketing Campaign Proposal

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Updated: Sep 7th, 2021

Over the last couple of decades, the internet rapidly began to gain popularity and attract more and more users. As a result, it quickly became one of the leading media employed for business, marketing, and shopping. Today, each company or organization that claims to be successful and progressive relies on the internet as the means to strengthen their brand reputation, to attract new clients and workers, promote goods and services, and communicate with their target audience.

For the marketers from all around the planet, the World Wide Web provides a huge field for the competition aimed at winning the attention and devotion of the users. Also, it carries multiple benefits for the businesses as it allows them reach their existing and potential customers in a variety of circumstances and appealing for their different characteristics. The ubiquity of the internet in the developed countries has made advertisement ever-present in the daily life of the modern individuals.

In some cases, the advertisement may be so persistent that it starts to seem as if getting under it influence is no longer optional for the contemporary consumers. This paper will focus on one of the most influential online marketing and branding campaigns that took place within the last few years – Real Beauty Sketches by Dove. The campaign video has become viral within a very short period after it was first launched.

As a result, it was recognized as the most popular online ad of 2013 (Toure, 2013). The paper will attempt to analyze the keys to the success of this campaign (its elements, mechanisms, appeal), along with providing the profile and background of the company that launched it, and its online marketing strategy and brand value overall. Further, in this paper, there will be an inclusion of two extensions of this ad campaign that could take place to make it even more popular and impactful.

Brand Profile: Dove

Ghodeswar (2008) defined a brand as a symbol “intended to identify the goods or services of either one seller or a group of sellers, and to differentiate those goods or services from those of competitors” (p. 4). As a brand, Dove has quite a long history as its origins go back to the Second World War when the manufacturer of cleansing products Unilever was required to solve a problem for the US army and develop a formula for a body wash that would be easy to lather with salty sea water (Dove: Brand Profile, 2016).

Battling a persistent outcome of irritated skin, the manufacturers have eventually created a soap bar that partly consisted of moisturizing cream and was marketed as a revolutionary product that did not dry out skin after the washing procedure. This feature still remains one of the main advantages of Dove products. Initially, the soap bar was the only product of Dove, and it quickly outsold Unilever’s other similar brand Lux (Dove: Brand Profile, 2016).

From a US-based brand, Dove soon expanded internationally and is now one of the world’s leading global brands focused on beauty and personal hygiene products (Dove: Brand Profile, 2016). Eventually, Dove created more and more products and variations. Today, the brand markets facewash in a form of a soap bar, body lotions, creams, shower gels, hair care, and deodorants. The company develops the products for both women and men.

As stated on the company’s website, Dove’s vision is to promote beauty as “the source of confidence, and not anxiety” (Dove, 2016). This perspective is based on the observation that the majority of the contemporary women admit to not being fully satisfied with their appearances and willing to change how the look.

Dove’s Online Marketing

The main objective of any brand is to facilitate the connection between the consumer and the manufacturer and preserve this connection from being destroyed by the competing brands. Dove’s mission and vision are the main emphases and driving force of their online marketing strategy.

The campaigns developed and launched by Dove focus mainly on the “real beauty” as opposed to artificially created standards imposed on the modern individuals. That way, Dove presents itself as a freedom fighter of some sort that battles the stereotypes and promotes diversity, freedom, and confidence as necessary aspects of beauty.

Ever since Dove expanded into a strong competitor in the personal care products industry in the 1990s, the brand made a major emphasis on its attachment to what they refer to as “real” or natural beauty, therefore, creating an image of a brand that is easy to relate to, down to earth, and the most accessible (Dove: Brand Profile, 2016).

The three of Dove’s closest competitors, as established by Kantar Brandz listing in 2014, are Nivea and Clinique (who were ranked above), as well as Olay that showed lower popularity (Dove: Brand Profile, 2016). The overall brand value of Dove (according to the data from 2014) is 4.8 billion dollars. Expanding their range of products and attempting to penetrate new market niches, Dove had to attack the areas dominated by very strong and well-known brands.

That way, the company needed to find their points of difference to appeal to the customer segments targeted by the other product manufacturers and marketers. In response, the competitors have launched the extensions of their own making the competition even tighter and tougher.

As a result, the marketers of Dove have developed its Real Beauty Campaign that immediately made the brand one of the highest spenders in the United States in terms of advertising and marketing. For instance, as measured in 2013, Dove’s media expenditures equaled about 195 million dollars (Dove: Brand Profile, 2016). The main marketing strategy of the brand was to provide a wide range of products for a large customer base covering buyers of all ages and both sexes.

The marketing campaign targeting men is called Real Strength while that for women is Real Beauty. The latter includes several parts that were released at different periods. The focus of this paper is the campaign called real beauty Sketches that appeared in 2013. It appealed to the customer based employing strong emotions and went viral within just a few weeks becoming the brands most powerful and successful advertisement.

Real Beauty Sketches: Campaign Description

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches features a short video (about 3 minutes long) where a well-trained forensic artist from the FBI does blind sketches of women. The artist cannot see the women, and he is guided by their self-descriptions. As soon as the first sketches of each woman are done, the artist moves on to the second ones that are based on the descriptions of the same women but by the strangers who have spoken to them for just a few minutes.

At the end of the video, each of the portrayed women is presented both of her pictures. Astonishingly, the portraits based on their self-perceptions looked harsher and less attractive, while those guided by the strangers’ descriptions were lighter and more pleasant-looking. The empowering message of the video is that modern women tend to be unreasonably critical towards their appearance and in reality they are much more beautiful than they think.

Campaign Success

The Real Beauty Sketches campaign was launched in a form of a video using YouTube and managed to earn over 55 million views within just a few weeks. It was the fourth video in Dove’s Real Beauty focus after such advertisements as Real Curves, Evolution, and Onslaught.

All of these videos targeted female audience and appealed to strong emotions connected to self-perception, personal image, social pressure created by the media driven by fixed standards of beauty, self-esteem, and anxiety related to appearance. A month after the release, Real Beauty Sketches has established a new record of 114 million views on YouTube which immediately made it the leading video advertisement in history of online marketing according to the audience response (Stampler, 2013).

Mechanisms Employed

The huge success of the video that made it exemplary for all the online marketers and advertisement creators was created due to a powerful combination of several components such as seeding strategy, shareability, excellent knowledge of the target audience, and the appeal to strong emotions.

Viral Mechanism and Shareability

For a campaign message to become viral it needs to be shared by multiple viewers within the network where it is posted (van der Lans, van Bruggen, Eliashberg, Wierenga, 2010). Real Beauty Sketches video was placed on YouTube.

In order to ensure that the video is exposed to as many viewers as possible, the marketers invested in its popularization by means of its translation into twenty-five languages and posted on all of the multiple official YouTube channels owned by Dove (Stampler, 2013).

As a result, the overall coverage of the campaign included as many as 110 countries. YouTube was chosen as the leading platform for the campaign because it provided the best opportunities for sharing and discussion. That way, a digital campaign was preferred to the TV commercial that would not be shareable, and in turn, would never become viral.

Appeal to Strong Emotions

Appeal to emotions is often used as a persuasion tool in rhetoric. Real Beauty Sketches video was carefully designed in order to address a powerful feeling that was shared by the majority of women. As noted at Dove’s official website, there is a research that proves that 90% of females around the world are dissatisfied with the way they look to a certain degree and wish to change certain aspects of their faces or bodies (Dove, 2016).

In the article “The Power of Emotional Appeals in Advertising the Influence of Concrete Versus Abstract Affect on Time-Dependent Decisions”, Bulbul and Menon (2010), explore the dependency between the impact of the emotional content of the advertisement messages and the decisions the buyers make in the long and short terms. The authors explain that appeal to emotion in marketing is opposed to the reason-based persuasion.

That way, it is possible for the advertisers to convince the consumers that certain product portrayed as associated with certain emotions can be perceived as responsible for them. This technique is successfully employed in the Real Beauty Sketches video where Dove products are associated with support and self-esteem boost in women due to the persistent and lengthy “real beauty” focus and the emotional message for the women to trust Dove is this brand appreciates them the way they are.

Judging from the immediate response of the viewers that made the video viral all over the women, the message was received by the women and effectively shared. This phenomenon was a demonstration of the short-term effect of the advertisement that resulted in the viewers’ decision to inform the others about this message.

In other words, extremely high shapreability of the video was achieved through the appeal to strong emotion to which the vast majority of the target customers could relate. In addition, the insightful nature of the message pointing out an unreasonable self-criticism that brings more harm than use to the women made the clients emotional and encouraged them to show the video to as many of their friends as possible in order to enlighten them.

Yen, Lin, and Lin (2014) discuss brands as abstract entities compiled of the consumers’ perceptions, knowledge, and emotions associated with products. Using emotions, the brands connect the product designers and the consumers. That way, the emotional aspect of brands (or brand emotions) are highly important when it comes to marketing and advertisement).

The Real Beauty campaign created by Dove is driven by a clearly outlined story and centered around the consumer searching for the points of relation combining them with the brand’s points of difference – the key elements of the emotional branding (Yen et al. 2014).

Seeding Tools

The campaign was promoted both online and offline using regular stores where Dove’s products were sold on the regular basis and its websites. As noticed by van der Lans et al. (2010), seeding is often used as a supporting measure for a viral campaign as motivating the viewers to share a video may be rather difficult and costly.

Studying the content of the massage carried in the video of Real Beauty Sketches, the marketing campaign was funded very generously, and managed to cover as many strategies as there were available, and that is why its success was so fast and impressive.

In this reference, the internet plays an important role as a means empowering every user to produce the influence much larger to what they would have without the internet. While meeting a certain number of people and telling them about particular content could take hours or even days, sharing information on social networks takes seconds and allows the individuals reach out to much larger audiences.

The Message and the Product Correlation

Viewing the campaign one may notice that neither of Dove’s products are present in it in any way. The participants do not discuss beauty products and personal care, no one even says the word “Dove”. The video carries a form of social advertisement that addressed an important and widely spread issue that distresses certain population (in this case – the women).

As a result, Forbes’ contributor Jonathan Salem Baskin (2013) wonders whether or not such campaign should be referred to as marketing as it literally has no product placement whatsoever. Interestingly, the campaign looks more like an awareness raiser than an advertisement. Baskin (2013) emphasizes that even though the Real Beauty Sketches video has become viral within just a few weeks and was viewed, discussed, and shared by millions of people, not many critics and analysts noticed its effect on the company’s sales.

Did the video actually help Dove sell its lotions, soap bars, hair products, and deodorants? How many of the viewers to whom the video seemed touching and insightful buy Dove’s personal care products because of it and not due to various coupons or discounts Dove employs for marketing? Judging from the reviews of this online campaign, the sales impact is unknown.

However, many world renowned brands have engaged in the campaigns that do not mention their product but promote some other value instead. That way, choosing the content of the campaign, Dove had to make a choice whether to go with traditional product-focused video, or to pursue alternative goals connecting them to the product.

Dove has made a choice to promote their brand as appreciative and accepting, welcoming women of diverse shapes and backgrounds and providing confidence and support. Some of its biggest marketing campaigns were directed at the issues of fixed beauty standards that destroy women’s self-image and cause their misperception of own appearances.

This step worked due to the fact that this feature is very common worldwide. Regardless of age, ethnicity, or shape, women from all around the globe tend to desire to beautify themselves or feel pressured due to some perceived inadequacies.

From the point of view of marketing, targeting a population segment based on a common trait is the key to a successful advertisement. With its Real beauty series, Dove managed to appeal to an issue shared by the vast majority of its potential customers, there for reaching out to a huge group of the population and ensuring active response to the campaign video.

Dove’s Points of Difference

In comparison to the other beauty and personal care products, those created by Dove are marketed in a very special way that makes this brand stand out. The overall focus of its marketing campaigns has shifted over years. At first, Dove body and facewash and soap bars were advertised as made with the generous addition of a nourishing cleansing cream, and this feature was emphasized as the main point of difference.

The advertisements and commercials of Dove were centered around this aspect stating that while other products dry out the skin and create the feeling of discomfort, Dove soap bars are much more gentle, caring, and provide the consumers with the impression of moisturized and soft skin.

However, starting with 2003, Dove has turned away from product-centered marketing, and began to appeal to emotion, promotion of confidence, diversity, and self-appreciation (Flagg, 2013). Dover’s Real Beauty Sketches is also made in a form of a message celebrating the individuality of each woman. In order to strengthen its uniqueness, Dove has been launching non-traditional campaigns one after the other.

For instance, some of its advertisements featured women with curvy bodies as opposed to the traditional portrayals of women on the pages of beauty magazines, and personal care products’ advertisements that featured slim models.

The other messages included women of age including them in the customer base, as usually only the young individuals are celebrated whole older people are disregarded and depowered. Dove emphasized the normality of difference, publically inviting the society to embrace diversity of forms and not to limit the concept of beauty to a narrow range of fixed standards and parameters.

Showing diverse women, Dove increased its popularity helping more women relate to the advertisements. The models in the videos and pictures no longer looked unrealistically perfect. To the contrary, Dove pointed out their differences and something a woman can and should be proud of.

Having made the emotional branding its main strategy, Dove focused on the investment into this type of image promotion. Due to the strong brand recognition and trust from the side of the consumers, Dove could limit its product lines. As a result, the brand no longer needs to win new customer base segments taking over new niches and manufacturing new products. Its brand image is maintained due to the tight social relation between the customers and the brand facilitated by the emotional branding strategy.

Is It Really Just Marketing or Is It More?

As mentioned earlier, Baskin (2013) wondered whether or not Dove’s focus on social issues disturbing women that has been in place for many years now is very different from what most brands use to promote their products. Emphasizing its responsible attitude to beauty and the consumers, Dove creates a self-image based on social activism and desire to change certain perceptions and stereotypes, reducing the pressure in order to help the women feel more comfortable being who they are and looking the way they look.

However, Baskin (2013) notes that for now, Dove’s activism does not move any further than awareness raising messages generated for the purposes of brand promotion. In other words, in reality, the brand does not do anything to enforce the actual tangible change.

Some of the recommendations as to what Dove could do to strengthen the produced social impact and truly become the social equality and justice activist include the creation of a charity fund focusing on the provision of help to women hurt by social injustice, or donation to address the existing problems, promote fairer treatment of women within Unilever as a workplace, enforce policies ensuring equality and benefits for young and single mothers (Baskin, 2013).

To sum up, the current efforts of the brand definitely make an impact generating popularity to the promotional campaigns and strengthening the emotional association of the brand with responsibility among the consumers. At the same time the Real Beauty campaign cannot be recognized as anything but marketing as it seems to be directed purely at the image creation, but not at the actual social change.

Extensions to the Campaign

Developing extensions to such creative and powerful campaigns as the real beauty Sketches is challenging because the social reach of the advertisement was huge, and so was the response. An extension would need to either maintain the effect, or carry it even further strengthening the bond between the brand and the consumers established by the campaign.

Real beauty Sketches was easy to relate for the women from all around the world because it featured average females equating them to all the other representatives of beauty and personal care product consumers. However, to make the campaign interactive, Dove could post an offer for the women willing to take part in the new campaign.

The women would have to make a purchase through the official partner of the brand that sells its products. Each consumer would be sent a special code that they would have to register on the campaign website in order to become a part of a selecting campaign that would randomly name the winner codes once a week.

The group of the owners of the named codes will be invited to take part in the Real Beauty webisode where each of them would get a professional photoshoot with a typical airbrushing for a beauty magazine, and a natural photoshoot emphasizing the real beauty of each participant. That way, the extension would combine the aspects of real Beauty Sketches video and the one called “Evolution” that appeared several years earlier.

The webisode would include the speeded up process of preparation for both shoots and the final pictures placed next to each other for the comparison: real beauty versus magazine airbrushing. The message in the end would say: “Perfect or artificial? Improved or distorted?” This campaign serves as the raiser of awareness that provides inclusion to the consumers making them a part of the advertisement.

The interactivity of the campaign ensures its communication with the buyers and also it could boost the sales encouraging the viewers to buy Dove’s products in order to take part in the campaign’s selection stage. Besides, it relates to the Real Beauty Sketches inviting average individuals to become the living demonstrations of the image and perception alterations and its effects.

The second extension would not be as interactive. It would work within the Real Beauty campaign series, but not Sketches namely. Over the last few years, there has been a discussion around the color nude, the meaning of its name, and the social implications it carries. To be more precise, the debates occurred for several different reasons, one of them was Michelle Obama’s attendance of the White House event honoring the arrival of the Prime Minister of India.

The First Lady herself looked stylish in her evening gown of a shade referred to as “nude” or “flesh” by the reviewers. The generalization in the color name caused a reaction as the pale-peachy or beige color did not match Michelle Obama’s skin tone and thus could not have been called “flesh” or “nude”.

The fact that there is no fixed shade for “nude” could become a theme for the Real Beauty extension campaign that would be done in a form of a webisode featuring several women of color trying on dresses, stockings, lingerie, and makeup items in “nude”. The video would emphasize the frustration of women whose skin tone is very different from what is widely recognized as “flesh” color. The message of this campaign could state: “Beauty is different. Do not limit it”.

The target audience for this campaign would be the women of color mostly, however, some of the participants in the video could be extremely pale individuals whose skin tone is not darker but lighter than what is known as “nude”.

That way, the advertisement would work along the lines of Real Beauty series focusing on the diversity and social bias issues and also carry a new message addressing the fixed standards of what is perceived as attractive and the pressure modern women undergo bombarded by the stereotypes that narrow down certain concepts making some groups of the population feel inadequate and forcing them to become dissatisfied with their appearances.

The key business objective for this campaign extension is to strengthen the brand reputation and recognition for the promotion of unbiased perception of beauty and responsible treatment of diverse individuals. The extension would help the brand to become more relatable. In other words, the focus of this Real beauty webisode is to maintain the association of Dove as a brand with social awareness, acceptance, support, and inclusion among diverse communities and individuals.


Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches is one of the loudest online marketing campaigns launched over the past few years. It is loaded with strong emotions and therefore, is in pursuit of the establishment of strong bond with the consumers as a primary objective. The advertisement does not involve any images of any products marketed by Dove as its purpose is to maintain the brand image and gain the consumers’ trust.

Focusing on social trends and issues, Dove informs its customers about its nobility, good intensions, and values higher than just financial profit. That way, instead of promoting a single product, Dove manages to promote them all at once ensuring the strong reputation of the brand as a collective symbol of its individual goods. The cleverest aspect of the campaign is its universality as it uses a feature common for the vast majority of females worldwide regardless of age, ethnicity, or shape.


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