What We Can Learn from Dove’s Brand Portfolio Growth

The Real Beauty campaign expanded Dove’s relationship to customers by connecting the brand to self-confidence.

There are two common mistakes in strategically managing a brand portfolio. The first is to define a brand too narrowly around a product attribute and to believe that breaking out of this conceptual box will damage the “brand equity” represented by the attribute. The brand then stays in the box and never realizes its potential. The second is to have too many brands each covering the various attributes believed to be valued by the market. The result is underfunded brands, confusion in the marketplace, and a lack of brand-building focus.

Instead, the primary strategic goal of a brand portfolio should be to focus on a limited number of strong brands and find ways to leverage those brands by enhancing their market penetration, by extending into new offerings, and by expanding into new markets.

Unilever is a case in point. They focus on their 18 or so biggest brands, 13 of which are billion-dollar brands, and they don’t put the brands into confined functional boxes.

“The primary strategic goal of a brand portfolio should be to focus on a limited number of strong brands and find ways to leverage those brands.”

Dove, launched as a bar soap brand in 1955 known for its moisturizing quality, was in a box doing a respectable $200 million dollars in sales in the early 1990s. The brand then broke out of the box and aggressively grew its sales with brand extensions, product innovation, and geographic expansion.

Sales were over three billion in 2011, the last year that sales were reported, and are much more now. This growth was earned in an intensively competitive arena with large, smart, established competitors.

The extension strategy was to leverage the moisturizer attribute heritage of the brand into new categories supported by meaningful innovation. The first extension success was the Dove Moisturizing Body Wash with the innovative Dove Nutrium technology that deposited lipids, Vitamin E and other ingredients onto the skin. This was followed by entries into deodorants, disposable face cloths, shampoos with Weightless Moisturizer, Nutrium soap, and lotions with Shea Butter. Dove also entered the male market with Dove Men+Care and recently entered the baby market with baby Dove.

Each extension’s success was based in part on compelling value propositions. Additionally, an aggressive global expansion resulted in the brand, once a factor in only a few countries, now having a presence in over 80 countries.

An important ingredient to Dove’s successful growth was its “Campaign for Real Beauty”, originated in Brazil by Ogilvy & Mather in 2004. The campaign set out to make women aware that they have real beauty, not based on a standard of a young, model-thin body with excessive make-up. The goal was to change the way that women are perceived and to improve their self-esteem.

The campaign started with advertisements showing real women that may have been older or heavier than the “ideal” but exhibited beauty. Billboard ads invited passers-by to vote on whether a model was, for example, “Fat or Fab” or “Wrinkled or Wonderful”, with the results of the votes dynamically updated.

One of the campaign videos shows a forensic sketch artist drawing several women first based only on their descriptions of themselves (he does not actually see them) and then based on the descriptions of a stranger. The subject, seeing the resulting sketches side-by-side, realizes that the sketches inspired by strangers are much more flattering than the versions from their own self-descriptions show the tagline “You are more beautiful than you think.” The first two 3-minute Dove Real Beauty Sketch ads each got over 35 million viewers within two weeks of being posted on YouTube. Thirty-five million!!!

The Real Beauty Campaign expanded the brand and its relationship to customers by connecting with an issue of deep concern: the appearance and self-confidence of themselves and their daughters. It also provided energy and visibility that enhanced all the Dove products.


The Dove brand success did not just happen. You don’t just put a brand name on a product extension. Each Dove extension was successful because the product delivered a “must have” benefit often with a branded innovation. The country expansion was based on the presence of Unilever, the Unilever brands, and a brand positioning strategy that worked. The Real Beauty campaign was informed by research into the attitudes and concerns of women and communicated with stories with amazing content artfully presented.