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Exclusive: Unilever’s Harman Dhillon responds to feedback on viral Dove ad

She also sheds light on how the iconic brand is addressing changing beauty standards

By  Saumya TewariSep 29, 2022 8:02 PM
Exclusive: Unilever’s Harman Dhillon responds to feedback on viral Dove ad
Harman Dhillon, vice president, hair care, Unilever talks about the negative feedback on the new campaign, changing ideas of beauty and how Dove is striving to stay relevant among Gen Z consumers.

The biggest test Indian girls face in their school years is the "beauty test", says Unilever-owned beauty brand Dove in its latest campaign released on International Daughters Day 2022 (25 September). The ad has been viewed by millions of netizens, garnering over 12 million YouTube views in four days.

While the campaign gained appreciation for starting a conversation about deeply ingrained beauty biases, a section of audiences also criticised the company for double standards. Unilever sells Glow & Lovely (earlier called Fair & Lovely) which largely hinged its communication equating fair/light skin with success. However, in 2019 Unilever changed the product name and also its advertising strategy to be more inclusive and conscious.

This is reflected in the new Dove ad as well.

Made by advertising agency Ogilvy India, the ad shows how young girls are subjected to socially accepted standards of beauty which drastically impact their confidence and self-esteem. The Stop The Beauty Test 2.0 is an extension of its previous campaign that was focused on beauty judgements faced by women during marriage.

To be sure, Unilever said that Dove launched a study which stated that 80 percent of Indian school girls have faced unjust beauty tests as a teenager. Hence, this year the conversation has shifted focus from prospective brides to the stage where it all begins – adolescence.

In an exclusive conversation with Storyboard18, Harman Dhillon, vice president, hair care, Unilever talks about the backlash on its new campaign, changing ideas of beauty and how Dove is striving to stay relevant among Gen Z consumers.

Edited excerpts:

There is a certain set of audience that have criticised the new campaign. How does the brand deal with the negative feedback?

Our intent with #StopTheBeautyTest campaign was clear - to make society aware of a prevailing issue faced by young girls on a daily basis. To bring about a tangible impact with the Dove Self-Esteem Project, we are training teachers to deliver educational modules around body confidence and self-esteem to young minds. Our purpose of the campaign is to create awareness regarding when these beauty biases start, and the impact it has on women. We respect everyone's point of view and hope they see that our objective is to redefine the scope of beauty - celebrating it in its authentic and diverse form.

What kind of research went behind picking the theme for this edition of the campaign?

At Dove, we’re constantly working towards making beauty a source of confidence and not anxiety. Last year, we brought to light beauty-based judgements women especially faced during marriage and the impact it had on their confidence. However, during our research we uncovered a key moment of truth wherein societal standards of beauty are imposed on women much earlier on - as young as adolescence. Capturing this sentiment, we shifted our focus on the root of the problem - moving our communication from prospective brides to teenage girls. At a time when these girls should be concentrating on education, they are being unknowingly subjected to beauty biases by society. We felt that this was a crucial stage of intervention and wanted to bring about a tangible change. Thus, with #StopTheBeautyTest 2.0, we aim to raise the self-esteem of these young girls and break through beauty led stereotypes.

Where did the inspiration for the execution of the campaign come from?

As always, we wanted to share real stories enacted by real girls and feature the real-life implication beauty judgements have on their self-esteem. So, the brand film is a portrayal of exactly that. We want to highlight how family and peers, in the guise of guidance, are pressuring young girls to fit prescribed beauty standards and how this can lead to body image issues in their young minds - eventually stunting their confidence. The #StopTheBeautyTest movement is an attempt to bring awareness about this issue so we can stop subjecting young girls with beauty-based report cards and grading them on external appearances. The focus instead should be on building their self-esteem so that they can be comfortable in their own skin and realise their potential to the fullest.

While Dove’s global markets may be slightly more evolved, we’re not far behind where customers are demanding equal representation and opportunity. Brands no longer can superficially support progressive social movement but need to be actively engaged and be true drivers of change.

What is Dove doing to stay relevant among the Gen Z? How do they define beauty and is it different from older consumers?

The Dove Self-Esteem Project is aimed at the Gen Z with a vision to empower 8 million young minds by 2025. As part of the initiative, we partnered with experts in the fields of psychology, health and body image to create educational modules around body confidence and self-esteem which will be delivered by teachers under the life skills curriculum. Through this we will be reaching girls and boys in grades 6, 7 and 8 in selected schools across 8 states.

The ultimate goal is to change ‘beauty’ from its conventional lens and redefine and realign what it means to be beautiful. In comparison to the older generation, the younger audience is demanding an ethical, inclusive and diverse representation of beauty in media and Dove’s Real Beauty motto stands tall to deliver on the ask - ensuring beauty is not defined by shape, size or colour but being beautiful is to be the best version of yourself.

Any unique trends in terms of advertising or consumption you are witnessing among your TG in India? How's it different from Dove's global markets?

The Indian woman has gone through a complete metamorphosis in the recent time, especially when it comes to her portrayal in advertising and media. We’ve come a long way from women being conditioned to believing their self-worth is dictated by the perception of others, to now where they are seen taking charge and having a voice of their own. At Dove, we’re proud to have been one of the leading contributors to this change and are glad that brands across categories are following suit.

Today, our TG makes their own choice and has the spending power. Beyond expecting brands to deliver high-quality products, they also demand the brand drive a thought-provoking dialogue. While Dove’s global markets may be slightly more evolved, we’re not far behind where customers are demanding equal representation and opportunity. Brands no longer can superficially support progressive social movement but need to be actively engaged and be true drivers of change.

How do you measure the success of a campaign now? Has the benchmark changed over the years?

Today, the success of a campaign, especially when it comes to the type of campaigns Dove has been leading, is very different from the benchmarks traditionally set in place. The impact is no longer purely number driven. The campaigns of the current era are heavily driven by the impact they have on people and the type of change we can drive through the efforts of the campaign.

Are the days of big splash TV campaigns long gone? What works for new gen consumers?

Television is a relevant medium even now, in my opinion. There is still a large set audience in the deeper pockets of our nation who yet rely on television for entertainment as well as information. Thus, given that our target isn’t just the metro markets but pan India, TVC’s are a prime medium for us to bring our narrative alive. On the other hand, speaking about the new generation of consumers, social media has emerged as a stronger medium of communication than most others since it allows a two-way communication unlike TV. Thus, it is essential for us to keep the balance while strategising our media plan.

First Published on Sep 29, 2022 2:22 PM