Apr 19, 2013

Content We Love: the Press Release Behind the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” Campaign

A snapshot of the Dove "Real Beauty Sketches" MNR.  Click the image to see it live.

A snapshot of the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” MNR. Click the image to see it live.

The biggest viral story of the week was undoubtedly the latest in the Real Beauty campaign from Dove. Titled “Real Beauty Sketches (#wearebeautiful),” this installment clearly illustrated the issues women have with negative self-perception.    And while I could spend a lot of time talking about the genius of this campaign, for this edition of Content We Love, I’m going to focus on how the organizations behind the campaign – Unilever, Ogilvy Advertising and Edelman – chose to promote the campaign.

Days later, the global Tweet stream is still going strong.

Days later, the global Tweet stream is still going strong.

It’s not unusual at all for a brand to promote a new advertising campaign with a press release.   In most cases, the press release is pretty standard, describing the campaign, the related calls to action and special offers for customers.    The press release for the Dove campaign, however, took a different angle.

An exemplary headline:

Instead of focusing on the campaign, the PR team at Edelman focused on some of the stories underlying the campaign, and they did so right out of the gate with a compelling headline:


Dove® “Real Beauty Sketches” Campaign Reveals the Dramatic Difference Between Self-Image and What Others See

This is a fantastic headline, for a few reasons:

  • The headline elegantly captures the two key themes of the press release
  • Credibility for the story is built immediately noting that an FBI-trained forensic artist is at the center of the social experiment the campaign illustrates.
  • It doesn’t waste space with the brand name or campaign title.  Those are relegated to the subhead, which neatly describes the Real Beauty Sketches campaign itself.
  • It is almost tweetable, checking in at 136 characters (with spaces) but I’m not going to quibble length, because the descriptive language employed in this example works, and is necessary.

This is the kind of headline treatment I’d like to see on more press releases – one that leads with facts and story elements, rather than a brand announcing something.   It reminds me of advice I heard Kevin Helliker of the Wall St. Journal give PR people and years ago:  write the headline you want to see in the paper, and use that in your pitch email and press release headline.

Followed by a near-perfect lead:

The writer of this press release set the hook with the lead sentence, and followed immediately with salient facts that ensured the reader didn’t go anywhere but onward:

The way women depict themselves is dramatically different from how others perceive them. Over half (54%) of women globally agree that when it comes to how they look, they are their own worst beauty critic1, which equates to a staggering 672 million women around the world.2

Once again, we see restraint employed when it comes to brand mentions.   The brand and campaign aren’t mentioned until midway through the opening paragraph.

Now, let’s be clear.  I’m not anti-brand, not at all.  But I think most will agree that the lead sentence from this release is leagues better than the more standard-issue (and let’s face it, boring) lead we  see so often.  You know the one I’m talking about:

XYZ organization, a leading provider of whatever, is proud to announce today a jargon-laden description of something.

The lead paragraph doesn’t exist for to extol the virtues of the organization issuing the release.  It exists to set up the story and develop the reader’s attention. Whether the goal of the press release is gaining media coverage or engaging the audiences or driving social awareness (or any combination thereof,) a well-written lead will go a long way to securing the results you want to see for the campaign.

My advice when it comes to leads is simple:

  • Don’t confuse the lead with the boilerplate.  Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to leave company information out of the lead.  The exception is  material news from a public company, when putting the company name and ticker symbol in the lead is standard practice.
  • Use the lead to develop the story.
  • Think back to the inverted pyramid of journalistic writing.  Put the key points at the top of the message.
  • The lead and the headline should work together to describe and then start to develop the story – even in a press release.

“Unselfish” story angles

The body of the release is devoted to developing two stories, offering an up-close look at the forensic artist who did the sketches of the subjects, and at the underlying issue of negative self-perception.  I use the term “unselfish” to describe this approach, because it puts the audience first.   The focus on the artist’s professional background and his experience with the campaign is meaty stuff.  Any reporter covering this story would be interested in these details.  And for the more casual reader – the millions of individuals who read, tweet and share press releases each month – the detail on the artist lends powerful credibility and authenticity to the story.

The issue of self-perception, which is at the heart of Dove’s ongoing Real Beauty campaign, is also discussed.  Again,  the press release writer provided substance – in this case, survey data – that is useful to professional media and credible with other audiences.


If the press release for this highly visual campaign had been text only, the brands behind the message would have left a lot of visibility on the table.   Instead of using a plain text format (which by far still the most common press release format used today,) the team wrapped the excellent release in equally good multimedia.  Delivered in the form of a multimedia news release (“MNR” in industry parlance,) the message is fully formed, wrapped in three videos that illustrate how the campaign worked and offering interesting insights into the artist and subjects.

There’s no question that the Real Beauty Sketches campaign is a fantastic piece of work.  My own Facebook feed has been full of commentary from my own friends for days.   And in true Internet style, it’s even spawned a funny parody.   I really like this campaign.  But I truly love the treatment the team gave the press release.  Kudos to all of the people behind one of the most effective press releases I’ve seen.

Update 5/20/13: Less than a month after launch, the Dove Real Beauty Sketchesfilm became the number one viewed online video ad of all time.  The film, which explores how women view their own beauty in contrast to what others see, has been viewed more than 114 million times to surpass all previously recorded video ads, according to the Viral Video Chart reported globally by Unruly*.  In addition, Dove Real Beauty Sketches has garnered another 15 million views in China where it just launched.  Not only has the film been viewed in record numbers around the world, it is also the most shared video ad in over a year and the third most shared of all time, although closing the gap.  Dove Real Beauty Sketches was uploaded in 25 languages to 33 Dove YouTube Channels and has been viewed in over 110 countries.

Want to explore new ways to tell your brand’s story?  We’d be happy to chat with you about creating a video or a designing multimedia distribution strategy that will increase discovery of your brand’s messages.  We’d love to hear your ideas, and help turn them into reality. Contact us for more information.

 Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik .

2 Comments on Blog Post Title

Jacob H 14:27 EDT on Apr 20, 2013

Great critique! As a small suggestion, I think the hyperlink used in connection with Edelman needs to be changed to twitter.com/edelmanPR.

Sarah Skerik 17:35 EDT on Apr 25, 2013

good catch, Jacob! Thanks!

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