Dove: Going into schools isn’t about selling products but being authentic

Unilever’s Dove has defended its self-empowerment campaigns for schools by claiming they are not about “selling products to kids” but prove its authenticity.

Dove claims it “walks the talk” when it comes to promoting positive self-esteem, as it launches a toolkit into schools to tackle body image anxiety among children.

The toolkit was launched after research conducted by the Unilever-owned brand in collaboration with the YMCA and EdComs found that almost a third (30%) of UK secondary school pupils isolate themselves to avoid activities because of body image anxiety, with more than half (52%) worrying about how they look.

The report, which surveyed over 2,000 children, highlights the vital role schools can play in tackling body image anxiety, as three quarters of young people (76%) who learned about body confidence as part of their curriculum said it made them feel more positive about themselves. Despite this, less than half of young people (48%) surveyed said they had ever learned about the issue in the classroom.

Demand from teachers for external support is also highlighted, with more than three quarters (77%) of teachers agreeing that schools have an important role in teaching young people about body image. Despite this, nearly a third (29%) agreed the provision of more or better resources would be the most effective way to encourage teaching on body image.

The toolkit is the latest iteration of the brand’s ‘Be Real’ campaign, which it co-founded with the YMCA in 2014. It aims to take a two-pronged approach by talking to advertisers, the media and music industry about responsible portrayal of body image and by going into schools.

Alison Fisher, marketing manager for Unilever, admits the initiatives are about brand awareness, affinity and equity, as it associates Dove with “doing good”. But there are also wider reasons for its continued focus on changing people’s body image.

“We genuinely want to make a difference here and lead by example. We have been running our own Dove Self-esteem Project for almost 13 years. We do really walk the talk in terms of what we do. It’s about impact as well,” she tells Marketing Week.

The brand, which is celebrating its 60th birthday this year, launched its ‘Real Beauty’ campaign in 2004, which Fisher marked as a “leadership moment and a shake up” in the beauty industry. As time went on, however, the brand realised it had to start looking towards younger audiences to make a real difference.

This isn’t about selling Dove to kids. It’s our mission and about doing good for the next generation.

Alison Fisher, Unilever

“If our mission is to remove anxiety and make beauty a sort of confidence, it’s going to remain incredibly hard work talking to our core audience. But if we want women of the future to feel [positive about themselves], we have to start with the kids,” she explains.

When questioned on whether the initiative could cynically be seen as a way for the brand to get the brand into young people’s minds, Fisher dismisses the claim offhand.

“We tread incredibly carefully in this area. This isn’t about selling Dove to kids; it’s our mission and about doing good for the next generation. I’d argue the opposite and say [these campaigns] prove our authenticity. When we’re not proactively selling product and stand for what we say we do, we have to help the next generation at the right moment,” she clarifies.

Last year, it reached over 53,000 girl guides and 43,000 school children through its body confidence programmes. But Fisher is determined for the brand to do even more.

She concludes: “We have great materials for schools, but we’re not reaching as many people as we’d like. By working with Be Real, we can try to get under the skin of teachers and get into every secondary school in the UK to make a difference.”