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The Real Story Behind the Success of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty

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It's "PrimeTime" for Dove's revolutionary Pro-Age products and advertising. I love the new "bare it all" ads, and I guarantee that many women "of a certain age" do too. Because finally marketers are not only recognizing but also actually showing "real" women over the age of 50 in their ads.

I did research on this topic for my latest book, PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders. In conjunction with my partners at DDB Chicago, we conducted three sets of qualitative Girlfriend Groups, with women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, respectively. I had a hunch that a lot of the angst that conventional wisdom accepted as "every woman hates growing older" originated in the 40s crowd, evaporated in the 50s, and was actively repudiated in the 60s. My hunch was correct.

These PrimeTime Women are not in denial about how old they are or what they look like. They accept their age, actually relish it, and can't wait to see what the second half of life brings them. Many say you couldn't pay them to be 20 again! Studies have shown that women in their 50s and 60s report these as the happiest decades of life. As one of our respondents exclaimed, "I love being 50; I love this time in my life. I don't think, 'oh God, I'm getting old.' I look in the mirror and see wrinkles and I'm okay with it."

Contrary to popular opinion, Boomer women aren't in denial about aging. Advertisers are. And the women they're supposed to be trying to connect with are getting annoyed. One respondent said: "I really resent the notion that you can't grow old comfortably. You must NOT have wrinkles. The truth is, they are a natural part of aging."

Dove totally "gets" this PrimeTime Woman. And the real story behind the success of this latest iteration of the Campaign for Real Beauty lies in the principle that this woman is comfortable in her own skin. Being herself feels better than being seen as perfect. Authenticity trumps aspiration.


Just a reminder... within six months, sales of Dove's firming products increased 700 percent in Europe, and in the US sales for the products featured in the ads increased 600 percent in the first two months of the campaign. The Campaign for Real Beauty has exceeded company expectations; global sales surpassed the $1 billion mark in 2004.

Some people think the campaign has been so successful because it "validates" women, it "empowers" them to believe in their own beauty, with the implicit understanding being "even if the rest of the world wouldn't call them beautiful."

Nonsense. I think the dynamic is quite different, and understanding this subtle difference is the real key to this campaign's phenomenal success. I think in their heart of hearts women across the world believe that a lot of women, including themselves, actually look pretty good, even if they don't look like supermodels and even if the style-setters don't acknowledge them.

If asked, they define themselves as "average" because they have been taught what conventional beauty standards are and they know they don't conform. But when they get dressed up on a Saturday night to go out with a guy or the girlfriends, they think they look great! Not that they're allowed to say so, mind you, because that would be boasting—and nice girls don't do that.

That's a huge distinction, actually, and absolutely key to the power of the campaign. To me, women's explosive reaction to The Campaign for Real Beauty feels more like "Finally! Someone understands!" than "Really? You think I'm pretty? Honest?"

Through research, Dove uncovered that there is a pent-up demand for a company to understand and acknowledge what women all over the world were feeling. And it recognized there is no stronger way to build an intimate connection with a woman than to see into her real self, know her secret thoughts, show that you understand, and tell her that you love her anyway.

And that's exactly what Dove did with the Campaign for Real Beauty. And exactly what it is now doing with its Pro-Age advertising to PrimeTime Women. The name itself—"Pro Age"—is a wonderful touché to all of those "anti-wrinkle" creams and "age-defying" potions that trade on the negative stereotypes of aging. "Pro-Age" reflects the PrimeTime Woman's confidence and comfort in being just who she is.

I call them "PrimeTime Women" for a reason—two reasons, actually. They are in the prime of their lives; and they are the prime target opportunity for marketers in almost every category, not just beauty care but historically male-dominated categories too, including automotive, financial services, real estate, travel, and home electronics.

They handle 80-85 percent of the spending decisions for households in the peak years of their income, wealth, and spending power. And they are radically—radically!—different from any previous generation of women.

Marketers, take note: This is the dawning of the age of PrimeTime Women. They are the healthiest, wealthiest, most active, educated, and influential generation of women in history.

Marketers are always looking for a "magic" answer. For once, they just may have one... with their huge numbers, rapid growth, and incredible spending power, PrimeTime Women may well be the "silver bullet" marketers are looking for.


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Marti Barletta is the founder and CEO of consulting think-tank The TrendSight Group  (www.trendsight.com) and the author of PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders (Jan. 2007) and Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market Segment (Dec. 2002). Reach her at marti.barletta@trendsight.com.

Are you a Premium Plus member of MarketingProfs?  You can replay our 90-minute virtual seminar with Marti, Reach the Big Spenders:  How to Market wo Women from 50 to 75.

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