The benefits of keeping it real

Brands traditionally feature the rich, famous and beautiful in their ads to sprinkle a little stardust on their products – but research suggests consumers may relate to a more down-to-earth approach

Simon Fuller is hoping to bring the glamour of Formula 1 to a wider and younger audience and increase consumer interaction with the F1 brand (MW March 2).

A brand’s positioning and its expression in advertising are important marketing tools. But what position is it best to take? Do you position your brand as one that is glamorous or one that is for everyday people? Do you use a celebrity as the “face” of the brand, or take a more anonymous approach? What do consumers think of celebrity-fronted advertising and does it always work?

Unilever is pumping &£25m into brand extensions for its Dove beauty range this year (MW January 26) following the success of the brand’s Campaign for Real Beauty strategy, which captured consumers’ imaginations last year. VAR International looked at Lux and Dove, which have taken very different routes in their ad strategies, and assessed the impact on awareness and propensity to buy over a three-month period.

Lux is a long-established brand that has traditionally positioned itself as a luxury product. Its most recent advertising stayed true to that image, introducing a touch of Hollywood glamour in the form of Sex in the City star Sarah Jessica Parker. As an aspirational approach, can it fail?

Dove has undergone radical repositioning. Dove marketers took the bold, possibly even brave, step of moving away from traditional advertising messages of perfection and glamour, and instead picked ordinary, real life women to appear in their ads. The campaign uses women of all shapes, sizes and ages and has received many plaudits. But which campaign most struck a chord with consumers?

VAR developed a new method of observing opinions using modern key performance indicators (KPIs) and surveyed 3,000 adults. Four KPIs were chosen as representing the performance that marketers would regard as key to brand strength and that could be used to track performance. The KPIs are/ spontaneous brand awareness, advertising capital – perceived level of advertising by the brand (whether it is advertising or not), acceptance of the brand and the perceived availability of the brand (a guide to market presence).

For spontaneous awareness, Lux was a long way below Dove, but it showed a bigger increase in awareness over the three months of the study. Lux’s rating increased from 28% to 31% over the period. Dove’s increased from 67% to 69%.

What about women, the likely buyers of the products? How much do they believe the brands are advertising? This would reflect the impact of past advertising as well as current campaigns. Both brands’ perceived advertising capital increased over the survey period and in this measure, Dove was at a higher level (band high) of advertising capital among women. Lux progressed from band low to the bottom level of band high, from a score out of 10 of 4.95 to 5.26, .

Arguably, brand acceptance is the key area in which Dove was taking a gamble. If ordinary people did not take to its campaign, this KPI would show weakness. But the brand acceptance KPI shows Dove as being in the high band with an increased score that has almost reached the top box, jumping from 7.02 to 7.56 out of 10. Lux by contrast dropped out of band high into band low, dropping from 5.05 to 4.73 out of 10.

This indicator shows that the tactic of using real people to sell products to real people has been effective.

The final KPI measures how “easy to find” a product is, something that reflects the success of a brand in gaining measurable market presence in the minds of consumers. Dove sat in the top box over the three months and increased its score from 8.46 to 9.20 out of 10. Lux was band high and also increased its score from 7.19 to 7.51.

Advertising traditionally uses idealised examples of beautiful people and fantastical situations that link the brand to an image. Sometimes, consumers complain that the ideals are unattainable and such images are a bad influence. The findings of this survey support that. Despite the ubiquity of celebrity and our obsession with it, Dove’s approach of using ordinary people has beaten Lux hands down.

Marketers have been learning that peer-to-peer marketing, via the internet through reviews, blogs and community sites, is important and that it is necessary to strike up a two-way dialogue with consumers. The results of this survey show that peer-to- peer marketing does not have to be restricted to the Web.

Using real people as brand ambassadors is a hugely successful strategy for Unilever and its Dove brand. The current easyMobile campaign has adopted its tactics, with ads saying: “For some networks it’s all celebrities and glamour. We prefer Barry and 5p texts.” Should it be a strategy that more brands consider? Could the cult of celebrity be on the wane?

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