Episode 56


What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT.  I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’.  This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying. 

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… DOVE

Show Notes (click to expand)

I’ve been saying throughout my 25-year brand marketing career, that your product is NOT your brand…your brand is your Core Value…AND I define Core Value as what you give away to the world to improve the lives of others. Winning brands understand that people do not purchase their products and services…they purchase their core value!

There’s no other brand in my mind that does a BEE-YOU-T-FULL job of leveraging their products as the vehicle to deliver their Core Value than today’s brand…

…BUT before I reveal the brand, I have a question to ask:

Can one personal care brand evolve the definition of the word “Beautiful”?

During the 2-years I spent as the head of marketing for a lingerie company, I discovered that the portrayal of the “beautiful woman” is unattainable in real life, because most digital and print images are retouched using photoshop. 

In 2004, one brand in particular decided to take a different stand on this practice.  That brand is today’s clip: DOVE.

Dove was looking for a way to revive its brand, so they had their PR Agency conduct a study involving more than 3,000 women in 10 different countries to learn about women’s priorities and interests. After the study revealed that only 2% of women considered themselves beautiful, the executives at Dove saw a great opportunity. Because they were beginning to introduce beauty products beyond soap, they thought this was the moment to start a conversation about beauty.

In 2004, they launched the “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” to be the agent of change to educate and inspire girls to embrace a wider definition of beauty and to make them feel more confident about themselves.

Rather than launch a commercial, the first execution was a travelling photography show entitled, “Beyond Compare”! This exhibit challenged 67 female photographers, including Annie Leibovitz and Peggy Sirota, with communicating their personal vision of beauty. The images were attached to lamps to bring warmth and intimacy to the show.

After the success of “Beyond Compare”, Dove started producing advertisements that were about making beauty a “source of confidence”…not anxiety”!

Let’s take a look at some of these executions…

Number 1: Real Curves:

Rather than starting small, Dove launched a massive billboard in Times Square called “Real Curves”, which showed curvy women in lingerie.  In addition, Dove also created billboards with pictures of women asking people to decide whether the women were “wrinkled” or “wonderful,” “fat” or “fit.” While these were powerful messages on their own, Dove was bold enough to let people vote via text message. The billboards would update with the polling results to keep the public intrigued, as they revealed authentic results. The interactive options worked, and Dove’s Real Beauty website saw a massive spike in visits. 

Number 2: Little Girls

Dove made a bold move during the 2006 super bowl and challenged beauty norms with a commercial called “Little Girls” that shed a light on the insecurities of young women. Each child in the commercial revealed a part of their body that made them feel ugly, no matter who they were. The ad did a powerful job of reminding parents about their childrens’ anxiety, while also promoting healthier perspectives on looks as a whole.

Number 3: Evolution

After it’s rather innocent start, this video explored the hours of makeup and hair work a model goes through. Things grew more alarming as the woman’s neck and eyebrows were altered via photoshop and every aspect of her face was resized. The message was clear: The beauty seen through the media was far from real life! This 2006 video went viral before “viral” was even a thing. After all, YouTube had only launched the year before.

Number 4: Onslaught:

To keep driving home their message around how deceptive advertising really is, their next ad took a look at our daily media exposure. Onslaught showed a girl being visually hit with a series of fast-paced beauty images before showing the body morphing and surgery required to achieve these results! There was no doubt that this ads brutal honesty about what the media sells broke through loud and clear. The ad ended with the following statement: “Talk to your daughters before the beauty industry does!” Wise words for sure!


Number 5: Real Beauty Sketches:

This 2013 spot became a viral sensation as the most-watched video ad of all time, holding over 60-million views on YouTube. The ad depicted an FBI forensic artist sketching women that he couldn’t see by the way they described themselves. He said things like, “Tell me about your chin,” to which these women depressingly replied, “It kind of protrudes a little bit, especially when I smile,” or “My mom told me I had a big jaw.” Then strangers sat down and described these same women to the artist. The resulting sketches, the ones based on strangers’ descriptions, were ultimately more attractive and looked more like the women than the ones based on self-description. The message here was that women are way too critical of themselves. The spot ended with the tagline: “You are more beautiful than you think!”

Now it’s one thing to communicate what you want to change through powerful advertising; it’s another thing when you translate this vision into action. 

And that’s exactly what Dove did. All of these powerful executions I shared drove viewers to Dove’s online resources, which helped establish that Dove cared about how women felt about themselves. 

Because many of the factors that form women’s views on beauty and how they relate to their self-esteem start from a young age, Dove created The SELF-ESTEEM Project. The goal was to help the next generation grow up feeling confident about the way they look so they’re never held back from being who they are or achieving what they want in life. At the core of this project are Dove’s SELF-ESTEEM education programs that build young people’s body confidence and strengthen their sense of self-worth. 

The online workshops and additional website content keeps people coming back to their brand! For example, The Dove “Confident Me” school workshops allow teachers and students to explore the impact that image ideals portrayed through the media have on young people’s SELF-ESTEEM.

Not only has this Real Beauty campaign helped Dove successfully increase its sales, and win a number of prestigious awards, but it has also increased women’s confidence. Research from a Harvard psychologist, Nancy Etcoff, examining the campaign then and now found that more women today describe beauty using a wider variety of qualities such as confidence, rather than just looks.

In my opinion, what makes the Dove Real Beauty Campaign a success is the fact that Dove knows exactly what they’re selling – Self-Esteem – NOT beauty products. They’re a personal care beauty brand that is selling a powerful core value that clearly their consumers are buying into across the globe.

I’ll end by reiterating what I said at the beginning of this episode…if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Dove does a brilliant job of using their beauty products to drive their Core Value of SELF-ESTEEM.
So the next time, you’re looking for a personal care brand that is making a concerted effort to evolve societal expectations around the word “Beautiful”, remember this: 


I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

Listen & Subscribe on

Join my

and Never Miss an Episode

Join my

and Never Miss
an Episode

Share this episode



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *