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We’ve shared a lot about authenticity and its importance on this blog. It can be hard to practise authenticity, however, when it comes to our perception of ourselves. People — especially women — are conditioned to think that they must always look their best selves in public, a mindset that can often lead to low self-esteem and poor mental health.

Many marketers might hesitate to tackle a sensitive issue like this. However, when done the right way, campaigns that encourage authenticity can have a massive impact on people — and drive up brand value exponentially. As inspiration, let’s take a look at one of the most iconic and successful marketing campaigns ever — the 2004 “Real Beauty” campaign by Dove.

What the campaign was all about

Dove did a study of over 3000 women from across 10 countries, and learned that only 4% of women considered themselves to be beautiful. The company decided to launch a campaign that would convince the other 96% to think the same about themselves. It thus launched a series of videos designed to celebrate the true, unfiltered beauty in every woman.

In one video, Dove showed a speeded-up take of just how much makeup, touching up, and airbrushing goes into every single picture of a model that we see on a billboard or magazine. The tagline for the video was “no wonder our perception of beauty is distorted”, bringing home the fact that conventional beauty standards are highly unrealistic and that women should celebrate their own unique beauty just as it is.

In another video, Dove conducted an experiment with ordinary women from different walks of life. They hired sketch artists to create portraits of the women based on their own descriptions of themselves. It was observed that most of them described themselves as plainer-looking than they actually were. Then, Dove asked sketch artists to create portraits of those same women based on how others described them. The second sketches were noticeably more beautiful than the first, and the women were shown both side by side to highlight to them that they are more beautiful than they give themselves credit for.

The campaign was widely praised around the world for its inspiring message. Not only did Dove sales go up from $2.5 billion to $4 billion, but women everywhere felt celebrated for their authentic beauty. It continues to be cited around the world as one of the best-executed marketing campaigns of all time.

What modern marketers can learn from it

The Real Beauty campaign was very much ahead of its time and still continues to be relevant today. Social media makes it easy for anyone to share a filtered, glamorised version of their life — and women and girls continue to feel like they too must always show themselves at their best. Today’s children have access to social media from a young age, which means that they are all the more vulnerable to these glamorised stories. Campaigns in the spirit of Real Beauty can help to guard them from.

There is much to be learned from the Real Beauty campaign about how to market with taste and dignity. Self-esteem is a sensitive topic, intertwined with centuries of gender-based conditioning about beauty standards, and a campaign like this could easily have gone south. The Dove campaign didn’t just point out the problem — it actively crafted solutions to inspire women to feel more confident about themselves as they were. The videos were designed to be eye-catching, certainly, but the goal was to evoke positive feelings about one’s own body rather than any kind of shock value.

Moreover, the campaign promoted everyday Dove products like bath soaps and body lotions, rather than any specialised beauty products. It was a deliberate choice on the brand’s part to focus on affordable products so that the campaign would be accessible to as many women as possible. This too is a lesson for marketers — rather than trying to push sales for exclusive items, think about who the target audience is and what they are most likely to buy.

To sell authenticity, one must celebrate it

Good marketing is all about evoking the right emotions. If your goal is to share the importance of being authentic, craft a story that champions it and makes it accessible to everyone, as the Real
Beauty campaign did. And of course, if you need some help from the experts, reach out to the Star Squared PR team. As a leading digital agency, we have decades of combined experience crafting successful campaigns and would be happy to do the same for your brand.