How Dove Real Beauty Uses Digital Marketing to Stay Relevant

This long-running campaign has converted an authentic and inspiring purpose into tens of millions of shares.

In 2004, Dove provocatively widened the definition of beauty through its landmark Real Beauty campaign, challenging airbrushed stereotypes established by the personal care industry and rallying around the “real beauty” of women everywhere.  Originally positioned as a functional soap brand, Dove’s campaign leveraged digital marketing to provide a new opportunity for social discourse and community building, elevating the brand beyond the product line. Dove didn’t just sell beauty, but self-esteem and acceptance, becoming a brand grounded more in social and emotional benefits than functional ones.

How Far Dove Real Beauty Has Come

A primary reason for the success and resonance of the Real Beauty message was its deep rooting in digital activation at a time before digital marketing was commonplace.  For example, Dove used compelling and provocative videos to provide energy around the campaign, including its 2006 “Evolution” video – one of the earliest viral brand videos on YouTube. Its “Real Beauty Sketches” video also became one of the most-watched videos of all time.  It also launched the Dove Self Esteem Project, a web portal intended to improve the self-esteem of young people by engaging viewers in forums, workshops, articles and videos that educate on topics like body positivity and bullying.

“Digital engagement has become table stakes, audience touchpoints and expectations are changing in profound ways”

Now, nearly 15 years after the initial Real Beauty effort, Dove exists in a digital world that looks very different from the original.  Digital engagement has become table stakes, audience touchpoints and expectations are changing in profound ways and the “cause marketing” space has become increasingly crowded and noisy.  It would have been fair to question whether Dove’s brand message was at risk of fatigue.  However, Dove has continued to maintain energy around its brand and sustain relevance as we enter 2020 – using digital to continue to power its message and positioning.

Improving Brand Relevance Through Digital Transformation

The numbers back this up.  In the Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), Dove remains the most relevant brand in the Household & Personal category – a position it’s held since reclaiming the top spot from Crest in 2017.  Additionally, the gap between Dove and its category is growing, with a 2019 Brand Relevance score that is 35 percent higher than the category average, compared to 32 percent higher in 2016.  Dove’s score for “Customer Obsession” puts it in the top 10 percent of all brands and above noted customer-obsessed stalwarts such as Chick-fil-A and Southwest Airlines, validating the continued strength of the brand’s emotional connection with its audience.  The brand has also seen a steady increase in purchase consideration from 2014 to 20191, and as more and more brands position themselves more explicitly around a cause, Dove has managed to stand out, with the highest association with a social cause among all brands2.

Examining the moves Dove has made the last few years, it’s clear that it has accomplished this in part by investing in unique, thoughtful and more sophisticated digital marketing strategies.  These digital marketing campaigns – which range from stunt marketing to larger content creation strategies and partnerships – continue to reinforce Dove’s brand positioning, while leveraging more digital touchpoints that audiences interact with.  The approach allows the brand to build off of its earlier momentum by broadening and deepening its exposure with audiences.

Some of Dove’s Best Digital Marketing Strategies

  • In 2015, Dove partnered with Twitter to identify negative tweets about beauty and body image, and then respond to these tweets in real-time as part of the #SpeakBeautiful campaign. This was coupled with a creative advertisement about the ramifications of body shaming during the Academy Awards pre-show.
  • In 2017, Dove teamed up with award-winning photographers to take striking pictures of “real women” – pictures that spotlighted women’s strength, grit and talent. Through a digital back door, these pictures were uploaded to Shutterstock with a search tag of “beautiful” that flooded results for a search term that historically had yielded photoshopped, airbrushed pictures.  Dove then encouraged other photographers and brands to join the cause, and in turn, created a host of informal ambassadors for the Dove message.
  • In 2018, Dove introduced its “No Digital Distortion” mark – a symbol indicating that a picture hasn’t been digitally altered. This symbol runs across all branded content – digital advertisements, social media content and print – and serves as a consistent reminder of the Dove message across both digital and non-digital channels.
  • In the same year, Dove announced a two-year partnership with the Cartoon Network series “Steven Universe” to educate young people on body confidence and speak to the next generation of consumers.
  • In 2019, in partnership with Getty Images, Dove collected over 5,000 images on the Getty website that featured 179 different women, all of which were women from a variety of underrepresented backgrounds. These images were made available for public use, and like the Shutterstock stunt marketing campaign from 2017, created a sense of ambassadorship for users of the pictures.

1 YouGov

2 Do Something Strategic: A Social Impact Consultancy


Dove originally built strong brand equity by repositioning around social and emotional benefits, capturing topical consumer concerns and executing on an integrated marketing approach with a distinguished digital strategy and content.

Now, Dove has broadened its digital footprint through multi-channel campaigns, new-age content creation strategies and partnerships and crowd-sourced stunt marketing, all while maintaining its singular focus around its support of “real beauty” in an increasingly loud “cause marketing” space.

These strategies have been flanked by its legacy digital marketing touchpoints like viral YouTube content and the Dove Self Esteem Project web portal, creating a rich, layered marketing strategy.

Looking ahead to a new decade of digital possibility, Prophet’s team of digital marketing experts will be keeping a close eye on how Dove and others continue to build relentlessly relevant brands through excellence in digital marketing. And we’re excited to see what 2020 will bring.