Dove – Evolution

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 Yellow Pencil at the 2007 D&AD Awards and has since been awarded both the Film Grand Prix and the Cyber Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Advertising Awards, the first time ever that both awards have been won by one spot.

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 freelance 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.

That said, the team at Ogilvy & Mather were not briefed on this directly. Rather, they began with a very open brief for the year ahead.

‘We needed to challenge ourselves with what we were going to do for 2006 without being super-specific,’ says Kestin. ‘And we really felt that, with this type of client, and with a brand like Dove at its current stage of development, the opportunities were limitless.’

‘We had no idea what we wanted at that stage so this really was a media-neutral brief,’ agrees Sharon MacLeod, marketing manager for Dove. ‘We didn’t have enough money to do a big television campaign, or to spend a lot on production or on media. The relationship we have with the team at Ogilvy was the reason, in my mind, that we were able to do what we did with “Evolution”.’

As a client, she says, she felt completely safe putting out such a request, rather than giving a brief. ‘I’ve been in other situations where I don’t have such faith and it really does shut down a lot of the possibility.’

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.’

Dove Evolution

MacLeod says she was looking for the extraordinary: not just another 30-second ad or print ad.

‘With “Evolution” there was a real sense of possibility, to the point that you almost had to suspend reality and believe that you could do something really spectacular,’ she says. ‘In the past, whenever I have a good idea in business I’ve always felt uncomfortable. I do believe that if you want really great work you should feel as though you are extending outside your comfort zone but somehow with “Evolution” it always felt comfortable; as though it was simply the right thing to do.’

Initially, there were no specific plans as to exactly how the films would be used, but it soon became clear that Dove wanted to use them to promote its series of mother-daughter workshops across Canada.

However, because these workshops were specifically designed for women and their daughters (or other women who have influence on the lives of young girls), it was felt that some of the ideas on the table were not specific enough.

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.

From a creative standpoint, being given such complete freedom can make a huge difference. ‘I think it’s the difference between what is and what can be,’ says Kestin. ‘They know this is what we do and not what they do, so they said, “We love the idea, we think it is strategically right for the business, now go do it”.’

The power of trust, she says, is invaluable. ‘We were not handcuffed to the details of the story. They believed in us and saw what we wanted to do, in as much as they could see it, yet, at the same time, there was no part of them that ever expected that it would not be a zillion per cent better than that.’

MacLeod adds: ‘I think that, with a lot of creative teams, we underestimate how important it is for us to believe in them. But we’re human. And as much as we’re professionals, and as much as we’re meant to just pick up and do our best work, it’s human behaviour. As a marketer it took me a very long time to truly understand that.’

Dove Evolution

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? ‘Had we been brought into the process later, had we been given a brief that was much more conventional, had somebody already bought media, we never would have been able to make this film – at least not without a huge fight,’ concludes Kestin. ‘There are a million lessons that can be taken away from this experience – the partnership between agencies and PR is an unbelievably powerful thing that came out of it. But, for me, if I had to choose just one, it would be this: the earlier you get your creative problem solvers involved in solving your problem creatively, the more unique and fresh an outcome you’ll get.’

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.’

Dove Evolution

On the client side, Unilever’s position as a large global company could, potentially, have killed the idea for ‘Evolution’ before it was even born. ‘The last thing that you want is advertising by committee,’ points out MacLeod, who, at the time, was also working on a number of other projects as part of a global team. ‘I shared this work – which was, admittedly, still in the very, very early stages – and I can remember colleagues of mine just not being impressed with it. From a viral standpoint, they felt it wasn’t over-the-top enough. At that stage, there really wasn’t a ton of heart for it, and in a big global structure like Unilever, that can be enough to kill an idea.’

Thankfully that didn’t happen. In fact, the film was a global success. 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.’

Agency: Ogilvy, Toronto

Creative Director: Janet Kestin, Nancy Vonk
Copywriter: Mike Kirkland
Art Director: Tim Piper
Producer: Brenda Surminski
Director: Yael Staav
Production Company: Reginald Pike, Toronto
Director of Photography: Tico Poulakakis
Animation: Kevin Gibson, Soho Post, Toronto
Photographer: Gabor Jurina
Music: Vapor


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