There's Real Beauty in Marketing To Older Women

I wrote 18 months ago about how the Dove Real Beauty campaign had captured the attention of the media and women 50 years old and older. This campaign, which featured women of all shapes and sizes in their underwear, increased Dove's sales by 700 percent in its first four months and gained media coverage in more than 800 publications.

Continuing to build on its successful franchise, Unilever, the company behind Dove, launched the brand's pro•age line of personal care products in February. The campaign focuses on pre- and post-menopausal Baby Boomer women and challenges the anti-aging spin that many companies use. This campaign offers a valuable example from which fitness facility owners can learn.

Dove research revealed that 97 percent of the women it surveyed said society is less accepting of appearance considerations for women over 50 years old than their younger counterparts, with showcasing one's body the least acceptable. Ninety-one percent said the media and ad companies need to do a better job of representing realistic images of women over 50. Seventy-nine percent said they wished a woman could be considered beautiful even if she is not physically perfect.

Dove counters the anti-aging attitude in society and media with its new product line, seeking to change attitudes from negative and fear-driven to affirmative and hope-driven, says Kathy O'Brien, the brand's marketing director.

The models in the print ads are women over 50 of all races and sizes who appear nude in tastefully done poses. But where most marketers would go with an anti-aging angle, Dove has gone with the positive, exposing that no matter how old a woman is, she can always be a “Real Beauty.” With the pro•age campaign, Dove reaches out to women and encourages them to become involved with the brand. Dove's Web site introduces the viewer to the anti-aging products and prompts the viewer to “Watch what we couldn't show you on TV, then tell us what you think.” Video footage follows of a few older women, again filmed in the nude. With this message, Dove is asking the viewer to become involved.

Dove learned from the Real Beauty Campaign to create a debate and get people involved. With its communications, Dove asks, “Can a woman be beautiful at any age?” The goal is to gather women as a community and get them to share their thoughts.

In her book “EVEolution,” trend expert Faith Popcorn states that to gain the business of women, you need their involvement in your business. Dove has offered its clients multiple ways to get involved — from becoming a future spokesperson for pro•age and Real Beauty to sharing the word on pro•age. Are people seeing, hearing and talking about Dove's campaigns? Absolutely. Can you discover valuable lessons in these communications? Without a doubt.

Here are five lessons from this campaign that you might apply to your marketing:

  1. Realize that your marketing must capture the spirit of the older woman by using real women with real success stories.

  2. Ask members to share their successes on your Web site and encourage other members to share theirs.

  3. Create a community feeling among members from the start. For example, host small groups in your juice bar after class or program support groups. Give members an opportunity to be involved with your club and to contribute.

  4. Show members you are their advocate. Get involved with community events that support mature women, from the Red Hat Club to raising funds for breast cancer to hosting post-menopausal educational workshops.

  5. Be pro-age!

Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at

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