So what does Dove do right that so many other brands get wrong?
In “Patches,” psychologist Ann Kearney-Cooke presents a group of women with the RB-X patch, a product developed to change the way that women see their own beauty. After two weeks, the women return feeling more confident in their way they look to find out that the patch was just a placebo, and the change was only in their state of mind.
The short film from Ogilvy & Mather Brazil is just the latest iteration in “The Campaign for Real Beauty,” which has been running for 10 years. In that decade, Dove has been consistent in publicly stating that its campaigns serve to highlight that women have a complicated relationship with beauty. With this campaign, in particular, the brand says that they hope that women will be inspired by the idea that a positive state of mind can help them feel prettier.
While the hope of inspiring women may be genuine, Dove also knows that standards of beauty and treatment of women in the media are hot-button issues. And nothing creates buzz or earns more free media than a hot button issue.
When Dove first launched “The Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, people were shocked at the brand’s use of -- gasp! -- real women as half-dressed models. There was a lot written about it. Last year’s “Real Beauty Sketches” was appreciated by many, but criticized by some for being too patronizing and cementing old standards of beauty. Again, there was a lot written about it.
While these campaigns started debate, "Patches" has elicited more hostility than its predecessors. TIME’s article said “Dove’s New Ad Makes Women Look Gullible and Kind of Dumb in the Name of ‘Real Beauty.’” Jezebel’s post was titled “Dove's Latest Commercial Is Their Most Bullshit Yet,” and New York magazine simply called it “garbage.”
We’ve heard time and time again that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s not quite true. A campaign that is universally hated may cause a little controversy, but people will quickly stop watching it. Dove has shown that drawing some anger and causing debate helps to lengthen the life of the video and drive more views. But Dove wouldn’t have this kind of success – for the second time, mind you – if the brand wasn’t also striking a chord with its target.
Ad Age reported last week that social-media monitoring service Infegy found that among the social posts that expressed sentiment during the first two days of the “Patches” campaign, 91% were favorable. Unilever reported similar percentages of positive sentiment in the more than 20,000 comments that it tracked as well.
It should be noted that between “Real Beauty Sketches” and “Patches,” Dove also released “Camera Shy,” a campaign that didn’t use any stunt to talk about beauty. It garnered 29 million views. But very little was written about it besides the fact that it was a sequel. It shows how important this debate is to Dove’s success.
How does a campaign elicit enough ire to cause a media firestorm, but still appear to be imbued with enough good purpose to be shared again and again by online viewers? It’s really a fine line and a difficult one to walk -- but Dove seems to walk it well.