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Case Study: Dove Evolution

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto
Client: Unilever Canada
Award: D&AD Yellow Pencil, 2007

When the creative team at Ogilvy & Mather Toronto first came up with the idea of creating a series of viral films for Dove, no one could have estimated just how big an impact they would have, not only on the Canadian market but across the globe.

The films, of which ‘Evolution’ was one, were originally created for the Canadian arm of the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, a national resource established to help Canadian women and girls build stronger self-esteem and to support those organisations in Canada that foster a broad definition of beauty and positive self-image.

‘Evolution’ received a D&AD Yellow Pencil at the D&AD Awards 2007 and has since been awarded both the Film Grand Prix and the Cyber Grand Prix at Cannes Advertising Awards, the first time ever that both creative advertising awards had been won by one spot.

Dove Evolution 2007 Case Study | D&AD

The relationship between Dove and Ogilvy & Mather Toronto can be traced back more than 50 years, to when David Ogilvy first opened the agency in 1956. It is a testament to the strength of the longstanding relationship and to mutual respect and understanding that, more than half a decade on, the agency is still producing award-winning work for Dove.

‘In Canada we’ve been enormously fortunate in that our clients here have always had an immense sense of adventure. I came to Ogilvy, in a way, because of that,’ says creative director Janet Kestin, who first worked on the Dove account as a freelancer before joining Ogilvy & Mather full-time in 1991.

Canada has one of the most developed Dove businesses worldwide and remains a lead market for the brand. New ideas are often piloted here, including the Dove Real Beauty Workshops for Girls, launched as part of the Self-Esteem Fund. What was needed was a way to invite mothers to sign up their daughters to take part.

A still from Dove Evolution 2007

Art director Tim Piper had the idea of creating a series of one-minute films under the umbrella title of ‘Beauty Crackdown’. The plan was to come up with a collection of online films that were inexpensive, so a number could be made.

These were not to be constricted by either length or complexity of content, with each film taking on a different aspect of the negative power of modern beauty culture. ‘Evolution’ was just one of the films conceived under this umbrella and came about as a result of Piper watching his then girlfriend (who appears in the film) applying her make-up.

Piper had been an advertising art director for a number of years and was thus aware of the numerous tricks used within the industry in order to ‘sell dreams’.

‘Even though we all know that the images we see in magazines and on billboards are created images rather than real ones, nobody had really seen that story told in the way that Piper chose to tell it,’ says Kestin. ‘We were very aware that the world we were talking about had so much potential to tell its story in film and that’s when we really began to fall in love with the idea of a film series – and Sharon was right in there with us as a big promoter of that concept.’

A still from Dove Evolution 2007

Dove was keen to retain a primarily female focus at this stage, whereas ‘Evolution’ clearly had a much broader appeal. Out of this discussion came the idea, albeit very vague initially, for a film called ‘Daughters’, for which there was a budget in place. ‘We went back to them and said that for the same budget, which was not very much, we would do both films, so the two films were really a project that we did in tandem,’ recalls Kestin. ‘“Daughters” was a much more specific, goal-oriented film and is very touching to watch if you’re a parent but “Evolution” has such a wide appeal it ratchets the whole story up a giant notch.’

When it came to the actual shooting and post-production, Dove was more than happy to let the creative team at Ogilvy, along with its many collaborators, take control. In fact, aside from seeing the initial storyboard, they had no further involvement until well into the post-production stages.

‘Early on we presented a storyboard and while that doesn’t really show the technique – which in this case is a huge part of why that film is so great – it did show very clearly what the story was,’ says Kestin. ‘They just believed that it would be fantastic.’ And they were right. The final film did not vary much from the original presentation, although specifics such as the ending, where the image becomes a billboard itself, did evolve. These were not part of the initial presentation, yet the impact of seeing the image ‘completed’ in this way cannot be denied.

Ogilvy's Dove, 'Daughters' Film

Another of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty short films, watch the Daughters advert.

Rather than use conventional media, Kestin opted for the internet, beginning with the Campaign for Real Beauty website. This imposed new disciplines on the creative team, but it also liberated them from previous ones. They no longer had to worry about time constraints, allowing the story to be told in the time that it required. Even the old principle of ‘make sure people know it’s my product in the first three seconds’ was no longer an issue. The main criterion they set themselves was that the film had to be brilliant or fascinating enough to make regular people show it to other regular people: would people pass it on? 

As with any project, there were obstacles to overcome. Various unanticipated problems came up in the making of the film. Yet the solutions the team conceived enhanced the final product enormously. For example, the film starts with a dip to black and the words Dove Films. This was purely down to a problem with continuity. Introducing Dove Films was the fix – and, although the team didn’t know it at the time, it actually worked in their favour. The creation of Dove Films, which sees the brand almost taking on the role of a film production company, was more of an accident than anything else, yet now it really means something. People like it and they want to see more.

The amount of time ‘Evolution’ took in post-production was also underestimated. After the initial 10-hour day of shooting, it took a further six weeks before the film was complete. Only three had been budgeted for. Hours were spent on finding everything from sound effects to music and Photoshopping the image until the film was as good as it could be. ‘We all just pitched in,’ remembers Kestin. ‘Everybody worked really hard for less money than they would normally make because we all believed two things: we all felt this was a really special film and we all felt we were doing a really good thing. It was a fantastic collaboration between a lot of great people.

A still from Dove Evolution 2007

As it had been created to promote a local programme, the intention was to release it in Canada, to use Canadian media and to send it out within the Canadian viral world. But that’s not quite how the internet works! ‘We learned a lot about the power of the internet, not that we doubted it,’ says Kestin. Great timing also played a part, with the purchase of YouTube taking place at the same time.

‘Evolution’ was uploaded onto the site on 06 October 2006 and has been viewed more than 1.7 million times since [Ad Age]. Yet this figure pales in comparison to the surge in traffic Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty site has enjoyed as a result of the film’s viral success. The buzz from ‘Evolution’ has also been fuelled by bloggers who have made the film one of the top 15 most-linked-to videos [Technorati]. Perhaps the most telling statistic, however, relates to a 30-second spot at the 2006 Super Bowl, during which another of Dove’s films, ‘Little Girls’, was shown. That 30-second spot cost some $2.5 million. Compared to the cost of uploading ‘Evolution’ to YouTube? You do the math.

For MacLeod and the team at Dove, the main worry was whether the website would crash with so many people trying to view and download the film. It did! ‘This little film just continued to go from strength to strength,’ says MacLeod. ‘It was an idea to amplify a local programme so the expectations were pretty small in the sense of what it needed to do, but then we worked on it with some great people so it looked amazing. Then it was on YouTube at exactly the right time … everything about it just exceeded expectation.’

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