In 2007, Unilever’s Dove was the world’s number-one “cleansing” brand in the health and beauty sector, with sales of over $2.5 billion a year in more than 80 countries. It competed in categories that included cleansing bars, body washes, hand washes, face care, hair care, deodorants, anti-perspirants, and body lotions. It competed with brands like Procter andGamble’s Ivory, Kao’s Jergens, and Beiersdorf’s Nivea.
Dove had recently launched what it termed a Masterbrand campaign under the title of The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. For some marketing observers the campaign was an unqualified success, giving a single identity to the wide range of health and beauty products. But the vivid identity owed much to the campaign’s use of the unruly, unmappedworld of Internet media. Were there risks to? Putting the “Real Beauty” story out on media like YouTube, where consumers were free to weigh in with opinion and dissent? On blogs and in newsletters, marketing commentators argued that Dove’s management was abdicating its responsibility to manage what was said about the brand, and was putting its multibillion-dollar asset at risk.
Professor JohnDeighton prepared this case. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. Advertising images are copyright Unilever.
To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston,MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of Harvard Business School.
Unilever A leading global manufacturer of packaged consumer goods, Unilever operated in thefood, home, and personal care sectors of the economy. Eleven of its brands had annual revenues globally of over $1 billion: Knorr, Surf, Lipton, Omo, Sunsilk, Dove, Blue Band, Lux, Hellmann’s, Becel, and the Heartbrand logo, a visual identifier on ice cream products. Other brands included Pond’s, Suave, Vaseline, Axe, Snuggle, Bertolli, Ragu, Ben and Jerry’s, and Slim-Fast. With annual revenuesof $50 billion, Unilever compared in size to Nestle ($69 billion), Procter and Gamble ($68 billion), and Kraft Foods ($34 billion.)
Unilever was formed in 1930 when the U.K.-based Lever Brothers combined with the Dutch Margarine Unie, a logical merger given that both companies depended on palm oil, one for soaps and the other for edible oil products. By the 1980s Unilever’s palm oil dependencehad shrunk, but its British colonial and Dutch trading heritage continued to shape the highly multinational enterprise. It operated on every continent and had particular strengths in India, Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. It described itself as combining local roots with global scale.
Global decentralization brought strengths through diversity, but also problems of control. Inparticular, the company’s brand portfolio had grown in a relatively laissez-faire manner. In ice cream, for example, Unilever was the world’s largest producer but lacked a unified global identity. It produced ice cream under the Wall’s brand in the U.K. and most parts of Asia, the Algida brand in Italy, Langnese in Germany, Kibon in Brazil, Ola in the Netherlands, and Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers in theUnited States. Other product categories had similarly checkered identities. In February 2000 Unilever embarked on a five-year strategic initiative called “Path to Growth.” An important part of this initiative was a plan to winnow its more than 1,600 brands down to 400. Among the surviving brands, a small number would be selected as “Masterbrands,” and mandated to serve as umbrella identities...