In search of the X factor

More recently the technique of public engagement has been skilfully exploited by foods-to-household-goods-and-toiletries manufacturer Unilever. We saw a simple example of the genre in action at the beginning of the decade, when the then Birds Eye Wall’s subsidiary launched a campaign to find the “face” of Magnum ice cream. There was no X Factor template in  those days, of course, but the contest got exposure on Channel 4 and the winner landed a year’s contract at Premier Models, which has represented the likes of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Cheap at the price you might say, though subsequently Magnum seemed to prefer celebrity endorsement, in the shape of Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria.

This year there has been a change of tack with Skelmersdale “girl-next-door” Ellen Addison winning the contract through an ITV talent search. Addison, who is  5ft 3in and a size 12, says she is “more your average woman than a typical model”.  Quite so; which brings us to arguably Unilever’s greatest triumph in social engagement, the revamping of the Dove brand.

Over the years, Dove’s campaign for real beauty has skilfully elided the commercial imperative of selling more product with a brand-premise wedded to building women’s self-esteem. Dove is portrayed as the friend who reaches out to the 88% of women not satisfied with their physical attractiveness; and the 68% who believe the media sets unrealistic standards of beauty (Unilever figures). Of course, Unilever deploys a massive advertising budget to achieve its ends – which paid off when Dove won a double grand prix at Cannes a few years back for “Evolution”. Of no less importance to its strategy, however, are the public competitions – such as “the Face in the Crowd” which recruits “real women” as stars for its advertising – that are used to bolster the brand’s positioning.

One woman Dove presumably won’t be reaching out to, though, will be Carole Bohanan, in her new persona as the Witch of Wookey.

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