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Social Change Campaigns: How Dove Used Data to Raise the Bar

This is post was originally published on CommPRO.

With every marketing piece bidding for our attention—and each trigger point prompting action—an impactful communications campaign today takes more than volume. A campaign that resonates requires messaging tailored to a target audience. It involves gathering and applying data to identify who you want to reach, and then getting to know them, inside and out.

Take Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty.”

The global marketing effort, rebranded in 2010 as the “Movement for Self-Esteem,” breaks down to build back how we, as women and as humans, define beauty. Dove’s initiative debuted the same year as Facebook entered the scene; a year prior to YouTube’s arrival; and two years before Twitter rebooted the digital playing field. With more than a decade to its name, the Campaign for Real Beauty set a legacy for how brands can authentically spearhead a movement that redefines a conversation by pulling at the heart strings of an audience they well understand.

Dove developed its campaign by first culling data on how women globally perceive their own attractiveness, while weighing the impact of this self-view on their self-esteem. When asked to describe themselves, Dove’s research found that only two percent of women chose “beautiful.” This insight paved the framework that the entirety of the campaign would build from: for women worldwide, beauty remained largely a concept shaped around limited ideals of physical attributes defined and affirmed by the mass media. To reshape an engrained standard, Dove would have to begin by tapping into how its target audience felt.

In its 12 years, the campaign’s messaging has remained consistent, all while evolving in strategy as digital channels have expanded in offerings. Dove’s efforts launched in 2004 with billboards featuring women across ages and ethnicities pictured alongside two check boxes: Withered or wonderful? Gray or gorgeous? Fat or fit? The year following, the campaign ran an ad series picturing six “real women” in white underwear as a stark distinction to the normalized mainstream lingerie models. By 2006, Dove released the short film “Evolution” charting the makeup-to-Photoshop transformation of the girl next door into a supermodel. Building upon the campaign’s prior elements, “Evolution” broadened the conversation to not only challenge women to accept themselves, but understand the elements distorting society’s functional definition of “beautiful.” The video garnered 1.7 million YouTube views in its first month. Dove went viral before “viral” became a buzzword on the digital landscape.

By 2010, the campaign’s rebrand honed in on bolstering female confidence. The 2013 spot “Real Beauty Sketches,” for example, depicted an FBI-trained sketch artist drawing women based on how they described themselves, and then again based on how a stranger described the woman. Dove uploaded the video to YouTube in 25 different languages, before distributing it to major print and broadcast outlets. The segment reached 114 million earned views and more than 3.74 million shares across 110 countries—a resounding success.

The Campaign for Real Beauty has morphed Dove as a brand into the embodiment of some of the most powerful female archetypes in our culture: a supportive big sister, the mentor that drives us to recognize our power and potential, and the friend committed to inspiring girls and women globally to embrace themselves for themselves. From the early billboards to its current commercials, digital self-esteem tool kits, hashtag campaigns and marketed partnerships, Dove has grasped where its current and potential customer base not only resides, but engages.

Throughout its decade of adaptation, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has kept true to the origin of its social mission. Dove deftly mined data to discover the perceptions engrained among the women and girls identified as their brand’s core targets. Dove might have launched a movement, but its success draws from its audience hooked by the values grounding the campaign’s platform.

What lies next? From the Equal Play, Equal Pay movement to dialogue surrounding the refugee crisis, immigration reform and religious freedom, a breadth of social causes has emerged on the frontline of mainstream conversation. How can organizations leverage this momentum to strategically take a stance and rally the masses to join a movement? What must change-oriented leaders understand about the cohort they want to reach, and how can they seize the attention of an audience already inundated with content?

The Campaign for Real Beauty is a case study in breaking through to not just build on the conversation, but drive it. Brands today should take note of Dove’s data analysis and deep audience understanding to recognize the power in absorbing every facet of a campaign’s target populace. With more communications channels than ever available to a brand, and more data than ever accessible to guide targeting on the most micro of levels, Dove has certainly set a high—although not insurmountable—bar to follow.

Emma Beck is an Account Executive at LEVICK and a contributing author to Tomorrow.

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