Age is Just a Number

As a student in the j-school, many of my days are spent studying past and present campaigns of all types. These range from completely traditional PR campaigns, to ultra-creative ‘guerilla’ style marketing campaigns.

The courses that integrate this material have been my favorite, as I prefer practical work to memorizing facts and figures for a test. Analyzing campaigns that have actually aired and reading about their results and impact on sales is fascinating to me – it’s crazy how one idea leads to the next, which then results in a full-blown campaign.

Last semester I found an unexpected passion for my public relations case course. To be honest, I was dreading it at first but quickly found that I loved studying cases because it walked through the entire processes – not just the end results that consumers see on a screen or in a magazine. Something I have discovered in college is that I love being able to work on a project from start to finish – understanding how the entire puzzle fits together.

When it came time to write my own case study, I immediately knew I wanted to learn more about the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. While this is already an extremely well-known campaign, I wanted to know the why behind it, to discover how it became so effective and powerful enough to shape the conversation on beauty around the world.

I quickly discovered that the campaign had way more depth than I initially thought, as it has been running for over 12 years. It was launched in 2004 and based upon the study, The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report. After analyzing responses from over 3,000 women in 10 different countries, one of the most significant conclusions found was that only 2 percent of women considered themselves beautiful. This shocking statistic became the basis of Dove’s campaign – to discover a way to positively change the conversation around beauty. Their approach focused on what they coined as ‘real beauty’ depicting a range of women in their advertisements that did not fit the status quo of models in today’s industry.

The objectives of this campaign were to contradict the nearly impossible standards of beauty prevailing in the world, through spreading a message of acceptance and reality that woman are beautiful regardless of their dress size. The first phase of the campaign rolled out globally in October of 2004 with the advertisements shown below – asking the audience how they would describe these women.


The campaign was met with great success as PRweek reported that just in the summer of 2005, the campaign produced over 650 million impressions. The messaging was obviously effective, as sales increased from $2.5 billion to $4 billion during that time period. Dove established a fund partnering with multiple organizations such as Girl Scouts and Girls Inc. to design activities that addressed the conversation of beauty and topics like bullying.

The amazing thing about this campaign is that it still exists today. While beauty ideals and pressures have shifted over the past decade, I think Dove has appropriately shifted their messaging to stay in-tune with the conversation around beauty.

Their viral video, Evolution, hit the nail on the head on addressing the misconceptions of models in advertisements. This was the first video of its kind that revealed the process behind photoshopping and the crazy distortions of images that we pore over everyday online and in magazines.

When I didn’t think it could get any better, it did. Their video published in 2013 called Dove Real Beauty Sketches, was one of the most powerful and effective campaign tactics I have ever seen. In the video (I highly recommend you watch it) women are asked to describe themselves and are then drawn by a FBI forensic artist. Then a stranger who interacted with the same women is asked to describe her – the artist then draws another image.

The image on the left is how the woman described herself, the one on the right is how a random stranger described her. 

This video perfectly captured the depth of beauty misperception – it created a tangible way to evoke self-reflection in viewers and a conversation starter to talk about a challenging subject. It stirs up emotion because it is so relatable to the way in which women perceive themselves and are bombarded by expectations in society.

There are countless lessons to be learned from this phenomenal campaign – but I think the most important is that Dove wasn’t apathetic about the research they discovered. They did something authentic with it – they tackled hard conversations and their research and creativity shone through.

10/10 for Dove.


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