What do you think of when you think Dove? Answers may differ from consumer to consumer, but chances are the Campaign for Real Beauty is top of mind. The campaign first launched in 2004 with Tick Box, a series of billboard ads featuring headshots of real women beside slogans that posed questions like “wrinkled or wonderful?” and “flawed or flawless?”
In the 13 years since its launch, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has grown to include multiple print campaigns, impactful commercials, and viral short films like Evolution from 2006, and Real Beauty Sketches from 2013. The campaign as a whole – long-standing and multi-layered – has been widely regarded as an example of a marketing success by industry experts. Even through criticism of inauthenticity regarding Dove’s parent company Unilever and its ownership of Axe, Dove has continued to evolve its Campaign for Real Beauty, integrating it into almost every aspect of its brand.
This week, that integration made its way into Dove’s product packaging with the launch of Real Beauty Bottles; body wash sold in six different variations of its original packaging, meant to represent different body types. The intention of this mini-campaign within the larger Campaign for Real Beauty was to introduce a new way of empowering women regardless of shape or size. What followed however, was negative consumer backlash claiming that the body-shaped concept bottles did more harm than good.
Comments made on social media largely followed sarcastic themes of “Do I have to buy the one I think looks like me?” and “If none of the bottles are shaped like me, am I supposed to buy another brand?” While Dove surely did not mean for consumers to take the idea literally, the response shows the brand what they should have already known: body wash bottles are just not meant to represent bodies. The women who face the issues Dove is trying to solve already worry about buying jeans that fit, not soap.
This latest campaign stunt brings back the question of Dove’s authenticity. While Dove’s ultimate goal, like that of any brand, is to sell product, its Campaign for Real Beauty has up until this point been positioned as the sale of an idea or a fuzzy feeling. Real Beauty Bottles however, is selling a product first. This has fuelled a portion of the negative comments made by consumers who view the concept as demeaning, using female insecurities to make a profit.
While Dove will likely not face too much of a brand disaster after this campaign miss (think Real Beauty Bottles compared to the recent United Airlines scandals), it still serves as an important lesson on authenticity. Being authentic extends further than walking your brand’s talk. Authenticity also means knowing which channels to leverage and which make no sense for your overarching message.