Dove’s Rob Candelino Discusses Empowerment Marketing

Unilever brand remains committed to 'Real Beauty'

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This year marks the 10th anniversary of Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty." While the Unilever brand has long been a dominant voice championing empowerment campaigns for women, some other brands (most recently Always and Pantene) are joining in. Adweek caught up with Rob Candelino, vp of marketing for Unilever's skin care brands, to see what he thinks about the competition. 

Adweek: There’s been some movement from other brands to get into the empowerment marketing space. What do you think of that?
Candelino: For us it’s always been about women and tackling stereotypes so they can reach their full potential. This is a big job and we’ve never said we can do it alone—quite the opposite. We want the discussion and debate in society so that we can arrest and stop and hopefully reverse negative and narrow depictions of beauty. We’re proud of the role that Dove has played in promoting a lot of these positive depictions. We invite everyone to play a role. It’s not about us; it’s about our women.

The beauty "Patches" campaign received some backlash. Some people found it to be condescending or manipulative. Do you have any perspective on that?
We’ve had parodies on many of the works that we’ve done. The "Campaign for Real Beauty" has spawned a number of parodies. We try to make work that is iconic and tackles a difficult issue in a compelling way. There’s a repository of Dove work that inspires all kind of reactions—overwhelmingly positive—but of course you’re going to get a mix here and there. 

How successful are these campaigns? Brand awareness is certainly affected, but does that translate into sales?
What I will tell you is this: Our first and foremost goal, why I work on this brand and why it’s a privilege to work on this brand, is that it is a brand with purpose. What our commitment to being a brand with purpose does is drive loyalty. It’s good business, but not our sole barometer of success.

What’s the thought process that goes into spots like these?
We do a tremendous amount of research. Quantitative and qualitative, locally and globally … the relationship that Dove has with women who engage with our brand, that is our most treasured asset. We have a rich and open relationship with our women. They tell us how they are feeling about the work that we do and they are our inspiration.

We’ve done work in recent years where we’ve learned that six out of 10 girls … abstain from doing something that they love because of anxiety about their looks. They’re not trying out for soccer or hanging out at the mall … many of them aren’t putting on that swimsuit because of anxiety about their looks.

The research helps us understand what the real issues, what are the crucibles that are holding women and girls back and that informs our creative process about how to develop communications and partnerships.

Can you talk about the fine line between work that’s touching and work that’s exploitive? How can you trust that work for the campaign will come out and be understood as good-natured as you might intend?
We are a beauty brand. We’ve always been very clear about that. We can go back 30 years and this brand was the first to say that we’ll use real women in our advertising. We can talk about how we were the first brand to say that we weren’t going to Photoshop or airbrush the real women in our [ads]. We are tackling the issues, that in many respects, the beauty industry is perpetuating.

Are there any plans to change Dove’s message? 
This is who we are. It would be disingenuous if we did something different; it’s in this brand’s DNA.

As other brands consider making a commitment to helping women realize their natural beauty or battle gender norms, could Dove become less distinct? What if that messaging isn’t as valuable in the space?
It's difficult for me to comment on that. We are incredibly proud of the work we’ve done so far. We recognize that we stand on the shoulders of a tremendous legacy. I can’t tell you the impact of any of the situations you’re referencing, but I can tell you that we are here and we will continue to be a leading voice and will strive to do meaningful inspirational work because we are a brand that has a real purpose and that’s what our commitment is.

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.