There is a multitude of various products nowadays. Some of them become outstanding and successful while others fail or remain average. Even though all products might have similar characteristics, there are certain features that distinguish a popular product from a failed one. The major difference lies in their ability to build a successful brand. In this paper, I will discuss the evolution of Unilever’s Dove brand and share some thoughts about its current condition.
According to the Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Keller (2013), brand is a “name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competition” (p. 30). Thus, one might say that brand is the combination of the product’s unique, custom features, which make it stand out from its competitors. The thorough definition of brand, provided by Keller (2013), highlights its importance in determining a product’s success.
Deighton (2007) suggests that until 2000 “the [Unilever’s] brand portfolio had grown in a relatively laissez faire manner” (p. 2). Thus, the company was a global leader in some industries; however, it lacked a unified identity (Deighton, 2007). In addition, its diversity caused a lot of functional and control issues (Deighton, 2007). As a result, in 2000, the company narrowed down its brand portfolio from 1600 products to 400 (Deighton, 2007). Also, the company’s management chose some ‘masterbrands’, which had a goal of “[serving] as umbrella identities over a range of product forms” (Deighton, 2007, p. 2). The goal of this new approach was to increase a public awareness of Unilever’s products and create a unified global identity.
Until 2000, the company followed the policy of global decentralization (Deighton, 2007). Unilever claimed to combine “local roots with global scale” (Deighton, 2007, p. 1). However, despite expected benefits from diversity, it started to face control issues. The company’s brands were managed by brand managers in corresponding geographical regions (Deighton, 2007). In 2000, the company had 1600 brands (Deighton, 2007). Some of them were market leaders in particular industries; however, since the product lacked a unified global identity (Deighton, 2007), these products competed against each other. In 2000, Unilever introduced the “Path to Growth” strategic initiative, which had a goal of restructuring the company’s brand portfolio and emphasizing a unified global identity through various ‘masterbrands’ (Deighton, 2007). That year the company’s management narrowed down the total number of brands to 400 (Deighton, 2007). Some of the brands were selected to be ‘masterbrands’, which became new structural units of the company’s operations (Deighton, 2007). Thus, each ‘masterbrand’ had a unified global brand unit, which was responsible for a global vision and cooperation among different geographic regions (Deighton, 2007). The company introduced some control into its prior laissez faire approach.
According to the Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Keller (2013), “creating brand meaning includes establishing a brand image—what the brand is characterized by and should stand for in the minds of customers” (p. 111). Thus, in 2000, the company’s brand meaning experienced a transition as well. Instead of being controlled locally, at a particular geographic area, every ‘masterbrand’ was assigned a unified meaning and identity. This strategy turned out to be extremely successful, as signified by the example of Dove products (Keller, 2013).
Having read some blog posts online on the topic of Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” and the brand in general, I conclude that people are not united on the usefulness of this initiative. Rather, some seem to be concerned that this strategy underestimates other parts of one’s personality, like emotions and experiences (McCudden, 2013). Also, some bloggers (Celebre & Denton, 2014) even call the brand hypocritical for promoting positive body image and traditional beauty standards at the same time. Celebre and Denton (2014) go further to stress the negative psychological impact of the campaign on women anxiety, self-awareness and dissatisfaction with their bodies.
These findings suggest that the brand’s imagery, which is a structural part of the brand meaning, does not correspond to profiles of some consumers. According to the definition (Keller, 2013), “brand imagery depends on the extrinsic properties of the product or service, including the ways in which the brand attempts to meet customers’ psychological or social needs” (p. 113). Thus, bloggers (Celebre & Denton, 2014), (McCudden, 2013) claim that instead of meeting customer needs, Dove creates a false, naïve representation of the actual world, which might have a lot of negative impact once a woman faces the actual reality.
The strategy that Dove has chosen is today a tough and challenging one; thus, there are certain risks I envision for the brand.
First, popular culture. Despite the fact that Dove managed to start a massive social debate on the topic of beauty standards, does the company have enough power actually to win it? Today, there are multitudes of companies, which dictate the exact opposite of the Dove’s strategy. These companies are also enormously popular and include brands like Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and Fitch and other fashion outlets, which are focused on serving the needs of traditional beauty standards; thus, creating an incentive for consumers to keep to the old vision.
Second, the Unilever’s strategy is somewhat hypocritical and not consistent, which might cause issues for Dove, which is one of the company’s brands. Even though Dove emphasizes positive body image and ‘real beauty’ standards, other brands under Unilever, like Axe, for example, promote a message drastically different from the Dove’s strategy. This lack of consistency might cost the company a certain fraction of an audience and eventual defeat on the ‘real beauty’ debate.
In conclusion, I enjoyed working on the project, as it made me read an interesting article by Deighton (2007) and analyze brand management strategies of Unilever. In 2000, the company managed to make sufficient improvements to its brand strategy. Also, it started a large-scale social debate on the topic of beauty standards. However, the lack of consistency and popular culture pressure might cause a defeat of the Dove’s strategy.
- Celebre, A., & Denton, A. (2014). The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. The Inquisitive Mind. Retrieved 30 October 2015, from http://www.in-mind.org/article/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-of-the-dove-campaign-for-real-beauty?page=5
- Deighton, J. (2007). Dove: Evolution of a Brand. Harvard Business School.
- Keller, K. (2013). Strategic Brand Management (4th ed.). Pearson.
- McCudden, L. (2013). The problem with Dove’s the real beauty. Thefword.org.uk. Retrieved 30 October 2015, from http://www.thefword.org.uk/2013/04/the_problem_wit_1/