Consumers browsing the body wash aisle in recent years have likely noticed more exotic and sensory-stimulating offerings, many of which hail from new or smaller brands. Some product descriptions sound like tasty toppings from a five-star restaurant, while others evoke lush, Edenic landscapes: “Vegan Murumuru Butter and Rose,” “Hydrating Coconut Latte,” and “Rich-Lathering Silver Water and Birch”—to name just a few. Clearly, many consumers have begun to feel that cleanliness ought to be a journey, not just a destination.
Dove, known for its high-quality formulations and moisturization benefits, has been delivering superior personal care products for more than 60 years. Despite being a category leader with years of double-digit growth and a high-performing package design under its belt, the brand takes a proactive approach to design management.
“It was 2018, and we hadn't changed our artwork in about five years, so we were due for a refresh given the changing market dynamics. Consumers were expecting more in terms of sensoriality and naturalness from their personal care products, and there were a lot of new, emerging brands entering the market,” said Margaret Merritt, senior global brand manager at Unilever.
The rise of e-commerce has been a boon for challenger brands who struggle to secure distribution through brick-and-mortar outlets—and a thorn in the side of established brands now required to defend their market share from countless new competitors.
“The competitive set was changing faster than usual because of the channel shift dynamic. Previously, our competitive set was defined by what you’d find in a Target or Walmart, but the shift to e-commerce included many more indie or beauty-store brands, and they were accelerating trends like premiumness and modernity. When consumers are shopping online, they don’t know if something is a mass brand or a niche brand—they just see body washes, and we needed to take that into account,” said Marcela Melero, global brand vice president of Dove Skin Cleansing.
Dove’s attention to the e-commerce channel at the outset of this initiative likely contributed mightily to the new design’s success when it eventually launched in early 2020—around the time Covid-19 drove unprecedented adoption of online shopping for consumer-packaged-goods products.
At a high level, the brand hoped to attract new buyers through an evolutionary design change that would work harder to emphasize premiumness, modernity, moisturization benefits, and an elevated sensory experience. It also wanted to communicate more about Dove’s values—such as using 100% post-recycled plastic bottles and abstaining from animal testing—on the back of the new package for consumers seeking more sustainable, ethical options.
“In our consumer research, we heard some concerns that Unilever is a big company, and may not necessarily be making efforts to address sustainability or ingredient concerns related to sulfates and parabens, which just isn’t the case,” explained Merritt.
Early consumer research conducted by the Dove team revealed another opportunity to expand its audience: raising awareness that the brand offers so many different variants, which could help to capture consumers seeking scrumptious scents or specific benefits. “Our preliminary research showed that many consumers thought we only offered three or four variants, whereas we really have 13. That was eye-opening, and it told us we had an opportunity to pull apart the different variants to make them more memorable,” recalled Merritt.
"Our preliminary research showed that many consumers thought we only offered three or four variants, whereas we really have 13. That was eye-opening, and it told us we had an opportunity to pull apart the different variants to make them more memorable."
Incidentally, research also revealed that consumers didn’t ascribe much meaning to the brand’s sub-lines at the time, such as ”purely pampering” and “go fresh,” which enabled the team to consider a new brand architecture as they pondered how to communicate the breadth of the Dove body wash line.
In late 2018, the team engaged forceMAJEURE, a Brooklyn-based design agency, to lead its redesign initiative. As a brand with deep roots, Dove had a number of distinctive assets that were vital to protect—its logo, bird iconography, white background, and colored caps—so a dramatic design change would have taken things too far. The key challenge revolved around better expressing specific qualities while respecting the brand’s constraints. Maximizing communication through minimal design changes is a tall order in any situation, and especially when the brand in question is already performing at the top of its class.
“The core question we asked ourselves was, ‘How do we better express the pleasurable quality of the product?’ For example, there’s an ongoing conversation about the role of what we call ‘the pour,’ which has been telling the story of moisturization for the last 15 years. How do we keep making that experience more beautiful and engaging?” said Laurent Hainaut, founder and president at forceMAJEURE, pointing to an image of the brand’s top-selling variant.
"The core question we asked ourselves was, ‘How do we better express the pleasurable quality of the product?'"
“We took a lot of inspiration just from the world of beauty in general. We weren’t just looking at the packaging, but at key visuals more broadly. How do brands express themselves when the product possesses a lot of textural qualities? How do they tell a really great fragrance story? Which photography styles enhance the communication of these attributes?” said Michelle Mak, creative director at forceMAJEURE.
The agency explored different ways of staging the ingredients to make them feel more fresh and evocative. While most consumers don’t spend much time considering how imagery on a package comes to be, the breadth of exploration is often astounding. “We can shoot a cucumber in 10 million ways, and consumers will take away different sensory impressions. Should the cucumber be fresh or frosted? Diving into cream? Immersed in water? Should it have more leaves? Should the slice have more transparency to it? All those details are very important. And then we also have to consider what consumers will see in the store from 10 feet away, or while browsing Amazon on their screens,” explained Hainaut.
Changes to the layout of the design enabled the photography to feel more dynamic—often bursting into the scene from the right, rather than being confined neatly in the center. “I think the layout of this design is extremely smart. Before, the ingredient imagery was trapped but, by moving the copy to the left side, there’s room for the photography to flow upward and to the right. That's analogous to what happens in the shower; the fragrance blooms when you open up the bottle, and the lather expands—it’s not a contained experience,” noted Melero.
In addition to reinvigorating the ingredient imagery, the team made a few key changes to the copy on the package. They assigned a carefully-selected benefit to each variant, such as “revitalizes and refreshes skin” for “refreshing cucumber and green tea,” and “calms and comforts skin” for “relaxing lavender oil and chamomile.” The color-block housing each benefit descriptor echoed the cap color, beautifully balancing the layout while reinforcing that each product offers something a little different.
The combined effect of the new photography and copy refinements had a dramatic impact on the brand’s communication. When consumers were asked whether the old or new design better conveyed key attributes in the category, the new design demonstrated massive gains on “leaves skin moisturized,” “high-quality,” “made with real ingredients,” and “helps me smell fresh,” according to an evaluation by Designalytics.
In early 2020, the new design hit retail shelves, earning the brand incremental distribution and triple-digit household penetration gains. The brand also saw greater engagement across all key audiences, including Hispanics, African Americans, Gen Z, Millennials, and Boomers. And it’s no wonder: When asked which design—old or new—consumers would prefer to purchase, 74% selected the new design, according to Designalytics’ analysis.
During the six months following the launch, the brand experienced double-digit sales growth compared to the same period during the prior year.1 “We led the category in dollar share growth—growing five times more than our nearest competitor. Moreover, we have seen record share growth, exceeding 20% in the body wash category for the first time ever,” said Merritt.
"We led the category in dollar share growth—growing five times more than our nearest competitor. Moreover, we have seen record share growth, exceeding 20% in the body wash category for the first time ever."
The success of Dove’s redesign is remarkable—not just for the staggering sales outcomes, but for the brand’s bravery in making a change at all. According to Designalytics’ category analysis, the prior design was a top-performer in the unisex body wash category, and the new packaging set an even higher benchmark. While most brands in this elevated position would have determined that any improvement would be unlikely and not worth the risk, Dove instead focused on the upside potential of design—and made a clean sweep in market. “Bad design is a risk factor, but design in general is not a risk factor,” quipped Hainaut. Dove exemplifies this truth: When effective, strategic design decisions are made, sales soar.
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1 IRI, total U.S., multi-outlet, latest 26 weeks ending 8/9/2020, compared to the same period during the previous year.