The Dove Effect: Ogilvy on Positioning

Chapter 2: 
How to Produce Advertising that Sells
Part II

‘Positioning’ causes similar products to serve different purposes

“This curious verb is in great favor among marketing experts, but no two of them agree what it means. My own definition is ‘what the product does and who it is for.’”

Ogilvy’s definition of ‘positioning’ addresses the primary use of the product and the intended consumer. Essentially, his version of positioning emphasizes product differentiation. Positioning, therefore, causes similar products to serve different purposes.

In chapter 6 of Ogilvy On Advertising, there is an anecdote about when Ogilvy began working with his client, the head of the Government of Puerto Rico, Ted Moscoso. On their first day of working together, Moscoso said to Ogilvy “Before we start advertising, we have to decide what we want Puerto Rico to become. A bridge between Latin America and the United States? An oasis of old Spanish culture? A modern industrial park?” Puerto Rico will be the same country no matter how you spin it, but the point is that you can spin it — and that is the concept of positioning.

My favorite example of brilliant positioning on part of Ogilvy is his framing of Dove soap. Rather than positioning Dove as a detergent bar for men with dirty hands, Ogilvy decided to position the soap as a beauty bar for women with dry skin. The product can be used for either purpose, but the association the consumer has with the product relies on the advertisements.

1957 ad for Dove soap that positions Dove as a moisturizing beauty bar.

The above ad clearly targets women and emphasizes the moisturizing quality of the soap rather than its cleansing quality. Positioning can change a product that is otherwise neutral.

In terms of positioning, while 1950’s advertising mostly focused on product differentiation, today, a more consumer-focused approach has been adopted by most modern marketing strategists. The goal of this new wave of advertising is to deliver relevant messages that engage with specific audiences. In the 1950’s, Ogilvy thought about what made Dove soap different from its competitors and decided the positioning from there. Today, Dove would look at what market segment they are targeting and then discuss positioning. In short, I would argue that modern advertising is more about “What does the consumer want?” rather than “How do we make this product different than the rest of the market?” Obviously, both elements are important and taken into account, but the slight shift in primary focus makes all of the difference.

Dove is still a mammoth in the advertising world. Their current ‘Real Beauty’ campaign has been running for the last 12 years. In line with this new wave of advertising, this campaign can be categorized as user-first instead of product-first. Dove’s website states the following vision for the campaign: “Imagine a World Where Beauty is a Source of Confidence, Not Anxiety.” This objective is clearly attempting to define a movement that targets a specific audience, NOT a product-oriented campaign. The ad featured below is a prime example of this strategy.

With close to 67 Million views, this modern campaign has definitely proved to be a success.

The campaign has pivoted towards ‘redefining beauty’ as per consumer interest and away from the product itself. Despite this shift, Ogilvy’s original positioning of the soap bar as a beauty product has not changed in 60 years. This is what I refer to as the Dove Effect — the positioning is sticky even with shifts in focus.


As a last comment on positioning, I would like to discuss an ad created not by Ogilvy, but another giant in advertising — Bill Bernbach. It would be a true shame to speak about positioning without talking about the case of the Volkswagen beetle.

The 1950’s are frequently referred to as the heyday of the American automotive industry. Sports cars were just becoming relevant and big, loud, powerful cars were praised. And then there was the VW beetle. The last way anyone would ever describe the beetle is with any of those previous adjectives. The beetle was small and kind of goofy looking. It was definitely not anything like the desirable cars of the 1950’s. That is until Bill Bernbach positioned this car as anti-establishment — a sort of against-the-grain, hipster car. Ogilvy commented the following regarding this campaign:

Groundbreaking 1959 ad for the Volkswagen beetle.

“To advertise a car that looked like an orthopedic boot would have defeated me. But Bill Bernbach and his merry men positioned Volkswagen as a protest against the vulgarity of Detroit cars in those days thereby making the beetle a cult among those Americans who eschew conspicuous consumption.”

Ultimately, it was the brilliant positioning that changed the VW beetle from being a small, dorky car to a larger than life statement.

This is the power of positioning.