Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dove Real Beauty Campaign

Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004. Throughout the years, this campaign was advertised in the form of billboards, videos, workshops and events. According to Dove, beauty should be linked to confidence, not to anxiety. Dove states that the aim of the campaign is help women worldwide view beauty in their own skin, create a positive self-image, fulfil their potential. It encourages women to accept their appearance and embrace their flaws in order to help raise their self-esteem, contributing to women empowerment. 
Since its launch, the Dove “real beauty” campaign obtained resounding success. It reached its peak in 2013 when the Dove’s sketches video was published, which was viewed over 114 million times, posted in 25 languages, and played in 110 countries. The following are two video examples of the campaign. 

1) Dove Real Beauty Sketches:

2) Dove Evolution:  

Why was this campaign effective and how did it achieve success? 

The Yale Attitude Change Approach affirms that persuasion is influenced by thee factors: the source, the message and the audience (Hovland, 1953). 

First of all, the audience (to whom): Dove targeted women of all sizes, ages and ethnicity worldwide. This contributed to the campaign’s effectiveness in two ways: 1) because the target audience was very broad, many more women were being exposed to the campaign, consequently leading to more chances of selling the products and 2) because the audience could relate to the women displayed, it was susceptible to in-group bias. According to the social identity theory (Tajfel, 1981) individuals want to obtain membership within their in-group, connect and behave similarly to individuals in the same group by applying group norms. Thus this meant that the audience had more chances of being persuaded as they felt connected to and similar to the women presented on the campaign. This should have lead to increased sympathy towards the brand ultimately leading to an increase in sales. Moreover, the audience Dove was reaching out to was most likely characterised by low confidence levels, which made them more vulnerable and   consequently more easily persuaded. 

Secondly, the message (what it is) of the campaign was ground-breaking. It was immediately perceived as strong, because it challenged fashion and beauty stereotypes of all other campaigns  and brands on the market, intentionally provoking a debate on the definition of beauty. Not only the message being delivered was different and eye-catching, it simultaneously laid its foundations on a sensible topic and conveyed shared attitudes with the audience. The message also included an emotional component, as it touched the audience on a personal level. Moreover, instead of trying to persuade the audience that the products advertised would help reach some unrealistic and desirable goal (such as others on the market, i.e anti-age lotions), this campaign focused on “transparency” instead, presenting products as if they had been designed for women as they are, with no deception involved (to the eyes of the audience). These factors combined contribute to the audience sympathising towards the brand and possibly buying their products when faced with choice. 

Thirdly, the source (by whom): Dove is well renewed, one of the leading brands on the market. The majority of people seeing this campaign would have probably come across Dove products on a regular basis because it is distributed worldwide. Moreover, Dove displays partnership information publicly, which range from small community projects to large international agreements. For example, the preliminary research that was conducted for the “real beauty “campaign was carried out in partnership with three universities. Additionally, the “real beauty” campaign was delivered with supporting evidence, in the form of statistics. All these factors combined make Dove a credible source to the eyes of the audience exposed to the message.

Another way this campaign achieved great success is through media coverage. It was shared, posted, discussed and displayed everywhere ranging from social platforms, to billboards to tv shows and interviews, which boosted audience exposure. 

The mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968) suggests that this consistent presentation makes advertising successful because the products that the audience is disclosed to more often will later be perceived as more alluring and desirable. In the case of the Dove “real beauty” campaign, such high levels of visibility made the audience familiar with the products and the brand, leading to them being perceived as more and more popular and desirable contributing to a higher number of sales.

The availability heuristic states that individuals would give more importance to the “real beauty” campaign and therefore the Dove brand, because due to high exposure and familiarity effects, they misinterpret this ease of retrieval as a sign of its overall importance. Previous research has found evidence to support this availability heuristic in many different topic areas. For example, in a study conducted by Tversky & Kahneman’s, participants were asked whether a random word taken from an English text would be more likely to start with the letter K or have K as the third letter. Findings showed that participants believed more words started with the letter K than words that contained the letter K as the third letter, although it is actually the opposite. According to the availability heuristic this is because subjects could more easily recall instances of words that started with the letter K leading them to a biased and wrong conclusion (Tversky &  Kahneman, 1973). 

The agenda setting theory applies this concept to other settings. Research has demonstrated that when a form of the availability heuristic is applied to a different context, such as the social  network newsfeed, people perceive the importance of issues by the amount of their presence on the feed (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007), media can work as filters, by manipulating what the audience is exposed to and therefore the importance individuals can give to different issues. When products can be effortlessly recalled, due to them being presented constantly, individuals believe that they are more important. In the case of the Dove campaign and social platforms, because it was shared frequently and consistently, it could easily come to mind making the audience more likely to invest in the advertisement concept and ultimately buy Dove products. 

                               A graph showing how the public perception of reality is shaped by the “media agenda”. 

The social learning theory operates on the notion that individuals acquire and repeat behaviour following observation, modelling or imitation. One of the most influential studies was conducted by Bandura, Ross and Ross (1986). Results showed that children who witnessed an adult behaving aggressively with a doll were then more likely to produce high levels of aggressive behaviour, when upset and dealing with the doll. The same principle can be applied to advertisements. Observing a particular behaviour can make the audience want to emulate it. In the case of the Dove beauty campaign, the audience may want to also to feel confident, happy and accepting of their body and its flaws, which in turn could make them more inclined towards purchase.

Moreover, the primacy-recency effect can be applied to the video advertisements of the campaign. The serial position effect states that material presented at the start or end has more chances of being recalled by the audience, while the one in the middle will most likely be forgotten (Murdock, 1962). The most influential study in this field was conducted by Murdock (1962), who asked subjects to remember 20-words lists. Results showed that those words that were recalled more were presented either at the start or at the end of the list Murdock (1962). In the case of the Dove real beauty campaign this takes two forms. Firstly, the final and most important message within the video advertisements is always placed at the end. This usually constitutes a sentence in the form of a slogan that summarises the concept of the campaign. For example, in the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video it is “you are more beautiful than you think”, and in the  Dove selfie video “the power is in your hands”. These are the messages from the campaign that will most likely stay with the audience and enable them to recall the essence of the campaign. Secondly, Dove video advertisements are presented as stories, and the message to be conveyed builds up as the video proceeds, ultimately emphasising the ending,  which takes the form of a take-home message and is therefore according to this theory more likely to be retrieved. 

                          A graph showing the results of the experiment on primacy-recency effect (Murdock, 1962).   

According to the elaboration-likelihood model, the audience adopts the peripheral route to persuasion when exposed to the Dove campaign. The message presented by Dove does not need particular attention, motivation, effort or time to be processed, so the audience will most likely process information using cues displayed in the advertisement (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).  

                        A graph showing the Elaboration-likelihood model presented by Petty & Cacioppo (1986). 


Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). Vicarious reinforcement and imitative learning. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology67(6), 601.

Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology66(1), 3.

Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L., & Kelley, H. H. (1953). Communication and persuasion; psychological studies of opinion change.

Murdock Jr, B. B. (1962). The serial position effect of free recall. Journal of experimental psychology64(5), 482.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.

Scheufele, D. A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, agenda setting, and priming: The evolution of three media effects models. Journal of communication57(1), 9-20.

Tajfel, H. (1981). Human groups and social categories: Studies in social psychology. CUP Archive.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology5(2), 207-232.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9(2p2), 1.

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