An Interview with Mike Hemingway: the Man Behind Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty”

Mike Hemingway has been in communications and advertising for over 30 years.

In the 1980s, he worked at two of London’s most famous Advertising Agencies: Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP) and Boase Massimi Pollit (BMP). His award winning accounts included: Fosters, Wrangler, Cinzano, Barclay’s Bank, Martell Brandy and Hamlet.

In 1990, Mike joined Grey Advertising in London as Vice Chairman, and led the team that launched and positioned Pantene as “Healthy Hair and Pro-Vitamin.” It was this move that catapulted Pantene to worldwide leadership in the hair care category, where it remains to this day. Mike also worked on Covergirl and their fragrance collections.

In 1995, Mike pitched for the worldwide Mars Confectionery business which he won. As a result, he was asked by the Mars Family to create a seminar for Mars Associates and their Agencies called: “How to Create Award Winning Effective Advertising.” Mike ran this seminar in over 20 countries around the world.

In 2000, Mike was invited to join Ogilvy and Mather New York to work on Kodak. While there, he helped to create the “Share Moments. Share Life” campaign. In 2003, Mike took over Ogilvy’s Unilever business, Dove, and led the team that created the Dove “Real Beauty” Campaign. This now iconic campaign led to incredible sales increases, whilst pioneering new concepts in “Equity Innovation” and “Mass Media.” Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is now the most awarded advertising work of the 21st century. Mike continued to lead the Dove Team until 2009, when he left to start his own business: Brandhunger.

Through his Brandhunger website, as well as his many speeches and specific client assignments, Mike helps companies and well known personalities incorporate social responsibility into their mass communications. He has also become an inspiring speaker. His newest speech is called The Rise of the Citizen Consumer.

A father to four sons, Mike authors illustrated books which he hopes will inspire parents and children alike. They are available free, on the internet. You can find Mike here.

Mike, does authenticity belong in any conversation about social media?

Authenticity is really only referenced in social media in the negative. For instance: “The jeans he bought were not authentic. They were Levi’s imitations.”

How do you define a brand? How do brands differ for genders?

This is the 21st century definition of a brand: A brand is an opinion. An opinion about your category that the customer finds personal and important. Brands are different for men and women. Men’s brands are mainly about the quality of the present. Women’s brands (mothers) are mainly about the quality of the future.

How do you advise companies to use social media in building their brands? Who is doing it best right now?

Companies need to realize that consumers have an equally keen interest in what they do, and why they do it. Motive is important. A brand is about motive. A product is about persuasion. Social media is the best way to get a brand’s motives into the public space.

Why isn’t Coke a brand? What do you think of Coke’s new ads to address obesity?

Check the definition of a brand, as stated above. Coke is discussing the key issue that is most important to their key purchasers (mothers). Obesity. Coke was a brave and great company once and are back to being that brave and great company again. They need to be congratulated. In many companies, passion is used and overused. Passion this. Passion that. But Hitler had passion! Compassion is really what’s needed. That one syllable “com’ states the direction of the passion… “for others”. Great brands put themselves second, and their consumers first.

Why doesn’t cause marketing work?

Cause marketing works in terms of increasing the overall knowledge of the true soul of a company. But in terms of sales and persuasion, cause marketing does not add specific enough information for the consumer to make a choice. For instance, the great work Bill Gates does on polio and other causes does not help Microsoft in terms of either share or affinity.

You’ve led some incredibly well-known campaigns. What is your strategy for success?

The key to success? Get to know your consumer really well. Fall in love with them. Never show them a mirror of themselves, but offer them a window to look through, to a place that is happier and achievable! Remember, we all have more in common with people who haven’t won the lottery, than with people who have. Don’t insult their intelligence and don’t dumbly overpromise.

What is “coliseum culture” and how does social media play into this?

The coliseum was built in Rome by the emperors for the citizens to witness gladiator fights. When one gladiator was defeated, the other gladiator would look up to the spectators and they would give the losing gladiator a thumbs up or a thumbs down. If it was a thumbs down, the gladiator would die. This power made the spectators feel they had some power, and made them feel better about themselves. Schadenfreude. Reality programs are the same. There is an elimination process, and the viewer sees the pain or joy of the contestants in close up! All of these contest reality programs have the same theme of elimination. Social media discussions give the public of sense of importance. (When, in fact, they are just pawns and unimportant in the eyes of the media owners.) Facebook and Twitter give the public the same false sense of importance.

What do you predict to come down the digital pipeline over the next 5-10 years?

The word digital will vanish from our vocabulary; just a turbo has vanished from the car market. What isn’t digital these days? The next “big thing” will be virtual reality for the masses.


Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Lisa currently works as an Assistant Director in Alumni Relations at Dartmouth College. She has been published in US News and Forbes. You can follow her on Twitter.