Advertisers will remember how Dove broke the mould in 2003 with its "Real curves" campaign. Daringly flaunting women in lingerie complete with curves and normal-length legs, the campaign contradicted the status quo of beauty advertising.
Three years later saw the infamous "Dove evolution" video take the internet by storm – arguably one of the earliest examples of viral video marketing. Once online, the advert was viewed over 40,000 times in its first day, 1.7 million times within a month and 12 million times within its first year.
Ten years on, Dove is still making waves but many others are also embracing brand purpose. L’Oreal’s "Gold, not old", Nike’s "Better for it", and Sport England’s "This girl can", are just a handful of campaigns that champion female empowerment.
Recent years have seen an explosion in the number of brand campaigns designed to support and empower women. Yet the degree to which they actually do this remains debatable.
Creative and stirring ads are proven in their ability to start conversations and drive awareness of an issue, as well as demonstrate a brand’s values. But if a brand really wants to make a difference, surely there is a responsibility to do more than simply highlight an issue?
As noted by Sharon MacLeod, vice president of Unilever North America personal care, back in 2014, "Conversation isn't enough. We have to do something to change what's happening."
There has been a notable shift in the industry as brands move away from traditional marketing methods to focussing instead on real-world engagement with consumers and trying to bring about actual change.
This week, Unilever called on senior leaders at World Economic Forum to take action against stereotyping after its global research revealed the negative effects of gender stereotypes on people all over the world.
The "Be real" campaign, founded by Dove and YMCA, also launched a Body Confidence Toolkit in UK schools this week after its research report, Somebody Like Me, illustrated the vital role that schools play in tackling body image anxiety in young people.
According to the research, 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 those surveyed had learned about the issue in the classroom.
The aim of the Body Confidence Toolkit is to enable schools to run their own campaigns using resources with proven effectiveness.
Far from a quick box-ticking exercise or marketing sleight of hand, those involved in the "Be real" campaign have been working behind the scenes for years to bring the project to fruition.
Dove’s Self Esteem Project has been running for 12 years and has reached 2.1 million young people since it started in the UK, including reaching 43,000 young people in schools in the past year alone through workshops devised by EdComs.
The Somebody Like Me research, undertaken by the YMCA with EdComs on behalf of the campaign, involved working with education providers and professionals from across the country to get to the heart of how best to tackle the issue.
Marketing with purpose isn’t about simply advertising your values. It’s more than a hash tag, more than a pledge, and more than a viral video. It’s not enough for brands to simply start a conversation. They need to turn words into action.
Martin Finn is the managing director of EdComs.