Let me open with a curious confession. I've been a bit obsessed with the Dove brand's Evolution video spot. I'm watched it dozens of times, shared it with others, talked it up around the office, and tracked its progress with the intensity of monitoring the ups and downs of my own blog.
What gives? Yes, Unilever's a client in my day job, but it's miles off my beat. Plus, we're in the syndicated business and work with dozens of other consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands.
What makes this spot special and worthy of conversation is it brings a unique set of fresh new teachings about both consumer behavior and the future of digital marketing.
First, some background. As part of the already talk-worthy Dove Real Beauty campaign, the brand placed a highly provocative and well-produced 75-second video spot featuring an attractive woman sitting down for a rapid-fire beauty makeover against a backdrop of high-tempo music on both its Web site and YouTube. Ultimately, the transformation finds itself on a computer for a number of special effects and facial manipulations. When the overhauled face finally makes it onto a billboard, you practically have to squint to find a semblance of the original person. This leads to dramatic kicker tag line: "No wonder our perception of beauty is so distorted." Messaging around the Dove Self-Esteem Fund follows.
Ten Key Takeaways From Real Beauty
Needless to say, the spot has been a viral phenomenon. I've been monitoring online campaigns since my early days in interactive marketing at Procter & Gamble, and this still-unfolding campaign stands out for a host of reasons:
Success by the numbers. The YouTube metrics along are quite impressive: nearly a million views, hundreds of comments, and about 2,400 "Favorites" rankings. Plus it made a host of YouTube honors. But, the YouTube metrics are only part of the story. The well-coordinated campaign deeply penetrated the blogosphere, crossed global boundaries, served as context for deeper textual discussion, and entered a host of social networks. For 10 days, it topped the charts of linked-to brand videos on both BlogPulse (owned by my firm and Technorati.
Success by viewer engagement. In many respects, this spot perfectly puts the concept of viewer engagement in perspective. A key goal of the engagement initiative is to explore and qualify new metrics and measures that push well beyond the overly simplified reach and frequency metrics. In Dove's case, there were views, comments, blog entries, links to blog entries, forum entries, board mentions, video responses, tell a friend, and even video mashups and manipulation that took the message in different, yet mostly reinforcing, directions. Each of these metrics informs perspective on ad effectiveness.
Evolution as consumer-fortified media (CFM). Unlike the vast majority of viral videos out there, this ad was 100 percent brand or agency created. But it was fortified by intense consumer commentary, conversation, and dialogue. Put another way, co-creation was an end results but not the starting point. Looking ahead, expect CFM to become a key success criteria for brands looking for tangible evidence of consumer appeal, involvement, and engagement. Every Super Bowl ad, for instance, has latent potential as CFM, but it's not a guarantee.
Audience penetration. Far from the "Snakes on a Plane" phenomenon, where the folks who created the buzz were marketing bloggers, not the actual movie prospects, the Evolution ad resonates unusually well with the target audience. If you carefully analyze the buzz and conversation, it's clear this spot resonates with women quite deeply.
Evolution as social currency. Part of what's fueled the virality and sustainability of this campaign are the thousands of consumers who have embedded the video into their own blogs. More important, the ad's content has social currency. This is also a driving force behind both YouTube's extraordinary growth. There's a huge misperception that most consumers find YouTube through the home page. What's powering the social media revolution right now is the notion of personalized content syndication, whereby we bake key features, utilities, or so-called widgets into our personal blogs and Web pages.
Evolution and emotion. In reviewing hundreds of verbatims comments, what struck me was the sheer depth and intensity of emotion around this campaign. This is important because emotion is so central to brand loyalty; emotion also correlates with depth of word of mouth and consumer-generated media (CGM) creation. Evolution has succeeded in stirring emotions around notions of changing society and "I too am beautiful." If you put all the CGM related to this campaign in a blender, you'd see a unique set of emotions bubble to the top: empathy, compassion, rage, empowerment, excitement, and even cynicism and defeatism. Like it or not, all this feeds dialogue and conversation. The big caveat is all this is very difficult to repeat with consistency or precision; often it backfires.
Search dividends. We won't really know for quite sometime whether this campaign truly sells cases, but one thing is very clear: the Dove brand will reap a massive dividend of targeted free advertising via search for years to come. This unprecedented volume of archived ad buzz for a beauty-care brand creates a wide long tail search funnel to the brand. Put another way, millions of new roads lead to Dove, even searches that may seem peripheral to personal care or beauty. This is the opposite of the damage Jeff Jarvis inflicted on Dell computer. This is a very big deal because women, especially influentials, increasingly use the Web to search for beauty solutions and answers. A joint study we just completed with AC Nielsen's Homescan Panel found nearly 70 percent of women actively use search to research products and services. Long term, this campaign may be a gift that keeps on giving.
Synergy and consistency. What fortifies this campaign is a believability factor among consumers talking about it. They find the brand really cares and has compassion. This screams in the brand Web site's strong receptiveness to feedback. In contrast to most CPG brands, including many other Unilever brands, Dove steps up to the plate in a big way to invite consumers to provide candid feedback, participate in online communities, or exercise other-share-your-opinion venues. Put another way, there's harmony between the high-expression YouTube platform and the brand Web site. In digital marketing, everything must hang together, and consumers always value consistency.
Freedom from :30 spots. At exactly 75 seconds, the video spot is two and a half times as long as a :30 spot. Had it been one second shorter, it just wouldn't have worked. Video production affords brands far greater flexibility and agility to take whatever time is needed to get the big idea across.. The only constraint is the consumer's attention and receptivity; ergo, it must be engaging.
There's clearly a strain of counterculture in this ad campaign, and it's just too early to tell if there will be any side effects from this approach. But clearly this campaign is pioneering a new genre of advertising that merits our closest attention and engagement.
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Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."