More than ever before, consumers want the brands they shop to share in their values and fight for systemic change in the world. A 2021 consumer study by Exasol found that 86% of people consider a company’s credentials in climate change, diversity and inclusion, and ethical business practices before deciding whether to purchase their products. As more brands aim to be purpose-led, brands need to become activists to make a difference.

Dove has spent two decades taking action to shatter unrealistic beauty standards and champion real beauty. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which launched in 2004, was a pivotal turning point in advertising as it was first to feature and celebrate real women, as opposed to models. That same year, the brand created the Dove Self-Esteem Project to help young people develop body confidence and positive self-image through educational programs. The phenomenal success of these two ongoing initiatives shows what can happen when purpose is at the core of a brand. Firdaous El Honsali, VP of Dove Global Communications and Head of Sustainability, has spent her eight years at the brand enriching its longstanding purpose through endeavors like committing to #NoDigitalDistortion in all of Dove’s marketing and advertising to support a more positive environment on social media that is representative of real, authentic beauty. Here, Firdaous shares her core beliefs behind several brand strategies, followed by functional advice for how brands of all sizes and budgets can find their purpose, turn it into action, and inspire consumers to join their mission.

Firdaous El Honsali, VP of Dove Global Communications and Head of Sustainability.

Look to your brand’s heritage and values to determine your purpose.

“People often think that purpose means going into philanthropy or simply choosing a culturally relevant cause to support, but that’s not what it’s about. Your purpose can and should be woven throughout your business. It’s part of what you believe in, what you stand for, what you support, and even how you connect to consumers with your products.

Crafting your brand’s purpose should be rooted in two factors: First, the heritage or the brand’s history. Where is your brand coming from and what was it built upon? Going back to the heritage will help you pinpoint what your brand does differently. How does your brand see beauty, women, or the planet? For Dove, everything is intrinsically linked to Real Beauty.

The second factor is values, which are typically defined when creating a brand. Understanding what your brand stands for by going deep into the heritage and values system is the best way to formulate a purpose and ambition.”

Example of the #TurnYourBack Campaign
#TurnYourBack Campaign.

Couple heritage and values along with your consumers’ needs.

“When crafting a brand purpose, you need to think about solving consumers’ problems that go beyond your products. Think about what societal challenges and cultural issues your consumers are facing and whether that links directly to your brand’s heritage and values.

With Dove, one of the key elements of our heritage is real women testimonials. Even back in the early ‘80s, our advertising didn’t feature models, but rather women sharing their experiences after using the product. We value authenticity and honesty at Dove; this is shown in our depiction of women and the expression of the product benefit. Back in 2003, the brand commissioned a study that found only 2% of women across 12 countries would describe themselves as beautiful. It was a wake-up call that something was fundamentally wrong in beauty advertising if 98% of women buying products to enhance their appearance still didn’t feel beautiful.

When Dove unpacked this data, they realized it was about something much bigger: body confidence. Women didn’t feel confident in their bodies because society kept feeding them images of unattainable beauty and figures.

That study helped Dove craft our purpose, which is to change beauty from a source of anxiety to a source of happiness for every woman. It led to the creation of our Campaign for Real Beauty, which is still a reference today. We have stayed rooted in our center of gravity – Real Beauty – and launched many more purpose-led campaigns all grounded in real consumer insights.”

Immerse yourself in your audience

“For me, the starting point should always be about talking with and listening to the people buying your brand. To find those human truths, you need to get out of your marketer comfort zone and on the frontline; that’s how you learn what their bigger issues are beyond products that can help define or sharpen your purpose.

I personally love going on social media, capturing the zeitgeist and connecting with creators, editors, and consumers on a one-to-one basis. I like qualitative research for the insights it brings and to get to deep human truths. The quantitative research, is for me, to prove that you are heading in the right direction more so than finding the insight that matters.”

Example of the #DetoxYourFeed campaign
The #DetoxYourFeed campaign.

Get stakeholders on board

“Once you’re clear on your brand’s purpose and what you want to achieve, align with your stakeholders, be it your CEO, your leadership team, your management team, whoever can give you a budget and unlock what you need to support your mission. They must understand that this is what your brand will be doing for years to come, so you have to convince them to join forces with you.

A great example of this is when Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was coming together nearly 20 years ago, the brand asked the daughters of people on the leadership team to speak on video about their self-esteem and body confidence. When the executives saw those videos and realized that their own daughters were grappling with these issues, ‘only 2% of women identify as beautiful’ was no longer just a statistic. Now they felt personally connected to the mission and were moved to fund it.”

Invest in your purpose and the communication around it

“Driving awareness of your purpose is as important as having one. If people don’t know about it, it will do nothing for your brand and it won’t deliver growth. Purpose drives growth, we know that consumers care about the beliefs and values of the brands they buy. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer study, 58% of people buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values.

There is a virtuous cycle you can follow: the more you talk about positive actions, it drives consumer preference, and more investment into your actions.

Brands should invest in their purpose, like a product innovation, and you don’t necessarily need big budgets to do this if you work in a small beauty brand. Being action-led isn’t about splashy campaigns or huge spending, it’s about committing to your cause. Invest in the action, which is what you’re doing for society that’s going to drive systematic change. This doesn’t have to be on a widespread scale; it can be something at the local level.”

Use social media to find allies for your purpose

“Influential voices and communities on social media help bring trust and add credibility to your mission and can expand your reach. You need to build long-term authentic relationships with creators who share your values.

As we get into the scale of marketing, we tend to forget about personal relationships and think of signing creators as merely transactional, but building a human connection with creators drives trust between the two parties and it shows up in the content the audience is seeing. There is science and data, and then there is the magic that happens when you build trust and a relationship with someone based on common values and goals.”

Don’t try to control the narrative

“We don’t hand our creator partners talking points about our latest Real Beauty campaign. Have the courage to let your brand partners leverage their creativity and power so they can authentically connect your brand message with their audiences. People listen to them because they’re authentic, so if we try to do our brand marketing through their mouths, it won’t work. Then when you have a purpose campaign where there’s a call to action, your partners will be eager to help drive it.

And don’t limit their input to only your purpose-driven initiatives. We look to our creator partners for guidance on how to speak about our beauty products, too, because sometimes they know better than you do what resonates with people.”

Example of campaign focused on how black hair is professional.
Campaign focused on how black hair is professional.

Be open to partnering with other brands

“There is no brand competition when you’re fighting for a cause. In the EU, the longstanding ban on animal testing in cosmetics is under threat, so in 2021, Dove joined forces with The Body Shop to get a European Citizens Initiative signed calling on governments to keep the ban in place. By coming together with 100 animal protection organizations including PETA to fight for cruelty-free beauty, we got 1.2 million signatures.

Speak out on cultural issues only when they align with your purpose

“You can’t impact every single issue, so you need to look to your brand values and belief system to be clear on what you stand for and define the boundaries where you feel it’s important to have a voice and can make an impact. You need to be very clear about where your voice is warranted and not succumb to the pressure to speak out on issues where you don’t have established credibility.

Dove is committed to making the beauty industry more equitable through diverse and authentic representations of women. In 2019, we co-founded the Crown Coalition to help advocate for the passing of the Crown Act to make race-based hair discrimination illegal in workplaces and K-12 public and charter schools nationwide. Today, the Crown Act and legislation inspired by the Crown Act has passed as law in 23 states. During the Black Lives Matter movement, we felt it was really important to continue to push forward our commitments to racial equity. We then established the Crown Fund to support organizations working towards creating more equity around the US.

Another area Dove has taken a stand against is digital distortion. Earlier this spring when TikTok’s Bold Glamour filter garnered backlash for perpetuating unrealistic beauty images, we were able to call on our global community of creators to #TurnYourBack to the trending filter. This came from the core of what we do, so we had legitimacy in the space.”

Get your employees involved in the brand’s mission

“Your employees are your best advocates for your purpose, so they need to feel like they are part of the mission. Let them see firsthand what your brand is trying to do and where it’s going, its unique values, and how those values make your brand different in the world.

On International Girls Day, everyone at Dove goes into schools and delivers the self-esteem programs that we’ve created as part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project. It all becomes real when they are right there with the girls and can see the impact of the workshops with their own eyes. When your employees engage directly in your mission, they become passionate about it and will work to protect and push it forward. This is how you create longevity for your purpose, by inspiring people to continue carrying out the mission so it gets passed on to the next generation and lives on for years to come.”