Is Dove following the blueprint of empowerment marketing?

I’ve been reading a book called Story Wars off-and-on for the past couple of months, and it’s one of those books that ties a lot of separate ideas I’d been having together, and made sense of them. It talks about the move in marketing from an approach of inadequacy to one of empowerment. That is, the difference between selling a product by appealing to base needs (the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: sex, hunger, fear) and selling a product by appealing to higher concerns, like creativity, self-esteem, belonging, etc.

So when I saw Dove’s most recent addition to its Real Beauty campaign, I recognised it as an example of empowerment marketing. A really good example of it. It takes a piece of information—that only four percent of women think they are beautiful—and creates from that a simple, but effective premise: you are more beautiful than you think.

Here’s what I like about it:

  • It’s such a perfectly simple, and well-executed idea.
  • It’s relatable. You see the women become emotional, realising how much beauty others see in them and how little they see in themselves. As a woman, as one of the 96 percent who struggles every day with self-image, I immediately empathised.
  • It doesn’t even mention a product. This video is all about brand value. I don’t feel like I’m being sold to, and I definitely don’t feel like I’m being condescended to. There’s no bullshit about microactive nutrients, or hype about the latest ‘advances’ in wrinkle reduction.
  • It’s 100 percent on message.

In one day the video hit 244,000 views, easily surpassing anything else on the brand’s YouTube channel.

But while I love this video creatively, and for its positive message, it’s important to always be aware of the bigger picture. Liking or loving positive things an organisation creates, doesn’t let them off in areas they could do better. And I think Dove—and its owner Unilever—can do better in some pretty important areas.

  • Parent company Unilever owns many brands, including a few that don’t advertise in such empowering ways. 
  • I have yet to see Dove limit use of parabens, PEGs, and other undesirable ingredients in its products—unlike competitors Neutrogena and Nivea.
  • Unilever was recently taken to task by international development agency Oxfam* for treatment of women in its supply chains. Is it enough to empower the rich women who consume your products while ignoring basic rights of the women who help grow the crops used in them? 

The book I mentioned before, Story Wars, recounts the 19th Century copywriter John Powers’ three commandments as a blueprint for empowerment marketing. 

“The first thing one must do to succeed in advertising is to have the attention of the reader. That means to be interesting. The next thing is to stick to the truth, and that means rectifying whatever is wrong in the merchant’s business. If the truth isn’t tellable, fix it so it is. That’s about all there is to it.” (emphasis added)

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches certainly hit the first mark, but I’d say it tells the truth only in a narrow definition of the word. Hopefully Unilever and Dove executives will start working on tellable truths soon.

*Full disclosure: I worked for Oxfam up until very recently.

  • Lynda Brendish is a freelance journalist who writes for NZ Marketing. This article originally appeared on her blog

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