Alessandro Manfredi: ‘Purpose is not a fad; it is just a much better way of doing business’
Posted on 2023 Apr,13  | By Nils Adriaans

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At a time when confidence in marketing is low in the boardroom, according to Warc, and purpose seems to be subject to erosion, Dove - alongside Vim - is the only brand that has been growing for a decade, according to research firm Kantar.

In this interview, Alessandro Manfredi, Global Chief Marketing Officer Dove (Unilever), the beauty brand that won dozens of Lions in the last decades, speaks of purpose-driven creative communication, as he asserts that ‘without continued growth we would not be able to make the same type of impact on society.'



Adweek (among others) wrote earlier: ‘According to Kantar's latest Brand Footprint report—only two of the top 50 brands in the fast-moving consumer goods space have achieved that consistent rise for 10 solid years: Dove and Vim.’ What is your response to that?

Kantar data shows that brands that were “stronger” on purpose grew twice as fast as brands that were seen as “average” on purpose over a 12-year period. To find this success and growth, you must embed purpose into your business model, which is what we have done on Dove.

What’s the secret of the brand Dove?

Everything we do is grounded in purpose, even our product innovations. We follow an actionist strategy that is meant to drive systemic change in the long term in the beauty world.

For example, we recently discovered 60% of girls are playing video games before the age of 13, and Dove research co-published with Women in Games, and the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR) revealed 60% of girls and 62% of women feel misrepresented in video games – we needed to do something to change this!

This is why we partnered with gaming industry allies Epic Games’ Unreal Engine’s education team, Women in Games and Toya on a series of actions to increase diversity and representation of female characters and support girls with self-esteem education.


Dove’s purpose is self-acceptance among women of any race, any weight and so on. Yet women are still undervalued in many ways and many places; what’s the status of women’s self-acceptance worldwide?

In 2019, we conducted research that showed 70% of women still don't feel represented in media and advertising; the move to a broader definition of beauty had never been more pressing. We launched #ProjectShowUs, a partnership with GirlGaze and Getty Images aimed at shattering stereotypes. This initiative features women and non-binary individuals everywhere as part of a collection of 20,000+ images that offer a more inclusive vision of beauty for all media and advertisers to use. 

On the heels of #ProjectShowUs, we launched a skin cleansing campaign about featuring body inclusivity on many levels, including a woman, Juliette, who had undergone a mastectomy and whose photos were featured in our collection.


You’ve been working at Dove since 2008, what has changed since then? 

One thing I am most proud of is our consistency to our mission and continuous action we have taken throughout the years. One of the early campaigns following Real Beauty, Evolution launched in 2006 and addressed digital distortion in print – but it closely influenced some of our most recent campaigns Reverse Selfie and Detox Your Feed because now distortion is coming from a new place – social media. We know that now 80% of girls have applied a filter or used an app to change the way they look in their photos by the time they are 13. Once they have, and when they stop editing their photos, the more they report low body esteem.


How do you connect to Gen Z, who are very critical towards purposeful brands?

We know that Gen Z cares about not only what brands say, but what they do and where they invest their time and resources. Dove is a brand committed to taking action against the systems that perpetuate racist, gendered and outdated beauty standards to build a sense of trust with this younger generation. 

For example, we have taken on race-based hair discrimination as co-founders of the CROWN Coalition. Formed in 2018, the CROWN Coalition works with likeminded partners to progress the CROWN Act across the US - legislation which aims to make race-based hair discrimination illegal in workplaces and public schools.


Bram Westenbrink, Heineken's global head of brand, has said ‘purpose marketing is over, everything is topical now’. What’s your opinion?

I don’t agree. Purpose is not a fad; it is just a much better way of doing business and one that can be phenomenally successful. On Dove, we’ve seen purpose drive growth and business transformation consistently for several years. In 2021, Dove grew 8% - on top of multiple years of mid and high single-digit growth, and about 60% of Unilever TO comes from brands that consumers recognize as making a positive contribution to society or the planet. 


Being an example, what does it take to make purpose marketing effective?

1. Define a purpose that is strongly connected to what you offer as a brand. E.g., ''Dove and Real Beauty''.

2. Take concrete action to deliver on your purpose authentically.

3. Ensure you amplify your actions correctly, so you can generate a movement around your purpose and truly change behaviors and beliefs in society and generate the consumer preference that will help drive brand growth. 


What’s the added value of creativity?

Creativity is extremely important when you want to drive systemic change because it helps changing behaviours.  


Do marketers have to be creative as well, to a certain degree? Do you have to have that trait in-house as well?

Yes - it is important to value and build creative traits within your team or organisation. We do everything we can to build teams that are comprised of passionate and creative thinkers.

At the same time we strongly value rigour, since creativity without discipline – in marketing – is close to useless.


One thing I am proud of is our consistency to our mission and continuous action we have taken throughout the years’


What is the beauty of working for a powerhouse like Unilever? What is the difficulty, compared to a sexy start-up?

Being part of a big established company gives you the muscle to make a very high scale impact on your communities and across different brands. It would be difficult for a startup to become the greatest provider of body confidence education in the world.


What is your background? Where are you from, how did you become a marketer?

I was born in Florence, Italy. I studied humanistic studies at high school and was always passionate about human sciences, that’s why at university I chose to specialize in Marketing and Organizational studies.


In Cannes last year you said you can lie awake from what publishers and influencers write about Dove – once you’ve launched a campaign. What were you afraid of then?

In communication it is more and more important what people say about your brand rather than what your brand says.  On Dove, we believe in what we call ‘Other’s Say’ vs ‘Brand Say’. We believe in bringing influential voices into our brand ecosystem and arming them with the information they need to know about an issue. If they chose to support our message in their own words, it makes our message more powerful.  


Creativity is extremely important when you want to drive systemic change, because it helps changing behaviours’


What is your impression of the industry these years? More and more people are criticizing the extravaganza of Cannes Lions versus (fake?) focus on doing good.

I see a sincere increasing importance to ‘doing good’. And this is encouraging. I think there is still some opportunity in ensuring that the campaigns that are awarded have a real and tangible impact and are not one offs, created exclusively to win awards. But things are getting better.


Finally, why do you love this job?

I love this job because it allows me to move people’s hearts with all our creations and - above all - because it is for an important cause I am personally engaged in.


And what’s your favorite personal brand? And why?

Patagonia, because it has successfully embedded its purpose into its business model growing ‘thanks’ to its sustainability commitment and not ‘despite’, which is exactly the model we are proving on Dove, year after year.