60 Days In: What Brand Marketers Can Learn From the Dove x Nike Partnership

Kelcie Gene Papp
January 3, 2024
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NEW YORK - Back in October 2023, Nike partnered with Dove to launch the “Body Confidence Sport” program. The alliance saw two masters of social impact marketing come together with the launch of this scientifically proven package of coaching tools and resources to build body confidence among 11 to 17-year-old girls through participation in sports. 

A next chapter in Dove’s decades-long advocacy of body literacy and confidence in young girls. “Since 2004, Dove has been working to arm the next generation with tools to build body confidence and self-esteem so that no young person is held back," explains Alessandro Manfredi, Chief Marketing Officer, Dove. "We are proud to team up with a likeminded brand like Nike to take action towards a more equitable future for girls – on and off the field."

As part of their mission to create a more inclusive and supportive environment in sports, the partnership has garnered support from influential sports figures. One such figure is Venus Williams, tennis champion and entrepreneur. Commenting on her involvement, Williams says, "In sports, girls often face a tremendous amount of pressure – not just around performance and abilities, but also because of unrealistic expectations around their appearances. I am excited to be working with Dove on this initiative to help nurture girls' self-belief and confidence, foster a positive environment, and shift the conversation from appearance to capability. Our shared goal is to make sports a more inclusive, welcoming space for girls everywhere."

Courtesy of Dove

A brief dive into Dove’s social impact campaigns to date

What is the Dove Self-Esteem Project?

Whether or not their ingredients are good for our skin is a different article. There’s no denying their relentless effort to improve girl’s views of their body over a sustained period of time. Leandro Barreto, Senior Vice President, Global Dove Masterbrand says the “Developed in 2004, the Dove Self-Esteem Project’s mission is to encourage a positive relationship with beauty for the next generation and help increase their self-esteem to ensure they have the confidence to meet their full potential.”  

Dove’s Self-Esteem campaign in 2022 highlighted the negative impact idealised beauty advice on social media had on teens’ self-esteem. Their study showed that a significant number of girls in the US, about two thirds, are spending more than an hour daily on social media, outweighing time spent in-person with their friends. 

Alarmingly, half of the girls surveyed indicated that the idealised beauty content on social media platforms contributed to low self-esteem. So what did they do? 

Dove launched the #DetoxYourFeed campaign and encouraged teens to define their own beauty standards and choose influencers that made them feel good about themselves. This involved a series of films, educational content and partnerships to spark necessary conversations among parents, caregivers, and teens about the dangers of toxic beauty advice. The film highlights dangerous topics like "fitspo," "thinspo" and the normalised promotion of elective cosmetic procedures to young girls. 

There were resources, workshops, guides and kits to help parents and teens navigate and manage the impacts of social media on body image and self-esteem. There was even a long-form film “Toxic Influence” where mothers and their teens discussed harmful beauty advice on social media. 

The majority of girls surveyed recognised that managing their social media intake, including spending less time on these platforms and unfollowing idealised beauty content, is beneficial. Approximately 70% of girls reported feeling better after unfollowing such content.

Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report

Dove's international research has uncovered a pervasive issue: as girls and women age, they face increasing pressures related to beauty, leading to a decline in body confidence and a challenge in acknowledging their own beauty. 

Here are some pivotal takeaways from Dove's recent study, "The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited":

- 4% of women globally see themselves as beautiful, a slight increase from 2% in 2004.

- 11% of girls worldwide feel confident in calling themselves 'beautiful'.

- 72% of girls are under significant pressure to meet beauty standards.

- 80% of women concur that every woman possesses some beautiful qualities, yet many fail to recognise this in themselves.

- 54% of women around the world admit they are their own most severe critics regarding their appearance.

Does Nike Support Body Positivity? 

Over the years, Nike has actively engaged in initiatives to support body image and gender equality in sports. One of their notable efforts is the Athlete Think Tank. Vanessa Garcia-Brito, VP, Chief Social & Community Impact Officer, Nike, Inc., says, “Nike believes all kids should have an opportunity to play, and we're focused on expanding play and sports for girls who are moving the least. Globally, girls face complex cultural and social barriers, and they also enter sports later and drop out of sports earlier. Our partnership with Dove, and unique focus on coaching through body confidence, aims to change that."

Courtesy of Nike

Of the initiative, Nike said in July 2022, “Inspired by their dedication and achievements, the company applies their insights to products, services and partnerships that aim to create a more equitable playing field. Together, Nike and its athletes share a vision of celebrating and empowering present and future generations.”

The Think Tank, then, was launched to invest in and champion the next generation of girls in sports. This initiative includes a diverse roster of sports superstars, such as Serena Williams, Sabrina Ionescu, and Paralympic runner Scout Bassett, among others. These athletes share their insights on the challenges women face in their athletic journeys, supporting gender equality, equal pay, and access in sports. Athlete Think Tank 2.0 was launched in May 2023, spurred on by ‘candid’ conversations at the Nike HQ.

They say, “Building off the success of its first two cohorts, Nike will form a third Athlete Think Tank later this year… — one that speaks to a broader commitment to listen deeply, serve athletes holistically, and collaborate in creating positive change through sport.”

Nike has also committed to rethinking how they design activewear to accommodate women's unique body needs. Nike’s innovation is considering factors like training during menstruation, body changes during maturity, pregnancy, motherhood demands, and inclusive sizing shows how Nike is working towards inclusivity and the diverse needs of their consumers passing through different stages of their lives. 

What has the Nike x Dove partnership already given us? 

The debut of this partnership served up a survey that demonstrated the potential of this partnership to make serious societal change. Garcia-Brito adds, "Together, we're taking action to break barriers by providing coaches with the tools to empower girls with a lifetime of confidence.

By shifting the conversation from what their bodies look like to what their bodies can do – so more girls can stay in sports and experience the benefits – we believe we're creating the next generation of female leaders and changemakers who will move the world forward."

Courtesy of Nike

The two brands’ global survey of 3,506 girls of different ages, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and US set out to better understand trends related to girls' participation in sports worldwide. 

The survey found: 

  • - 45% of girls drop out of sports during their teenage years due to impacts on body image and self-esteem associated with puberty
  • - 74% of the girls surveyed said their coaches positively impacted their confidence

Commenting on the finds Barreto quoted earlier says, “ As the world’s largest provider of self-esteem and body confidence education, we knew we had to take action by teaming up with Nike – the biggest champion of sports – to support young female athletes across the globe.” 

Did the Survey Represent the Global Population of Young Girls? 

Now, whether the 3,506 participants truly represented a global population of young girls, of course, depends on a number of factors. Understanding a global population, especially one as diverse as young girls around the world, poses significant challenges in terms of sample size and representation. While a sample size of two thousand can provide useful insights, there are five considerations:

1. Diversity and Representation: 

A global population of young girls is incredibly diverse in terms of culture, socio-economic background, geography, education, and other factors. A sample of two thousand needs to be very carefully stratified to ensure it accurately represents these diverse segments.

2. Generalisability: 

For global studies, generalising the findings from a sample of two thousand can be tricky unless the sample is meticulously designed to reflect the population. If the sample is skewed towards certain regions or demographics, the findings might not be applicable to the global population of young girls as a whole, and how to help them.

3. Cultural Contexts: 

Different cultural contexts can significantly influence the behaviours, attitudes, and responses of participants. Ensuring that these contexts are adequately represented and understood in a relatively small sample is challenging.

4. Statistical Significance vs. Real-world Relevance: 

While statistical techniques can adjust for smaller sample sizes to achieve significance, the real-world relevance, especially in a global context, might still be limited.

5. Comparative Studies: 

In global studies, it's often beneficial to compare data across different regions or countries. A sample of two thousand might limit the ability to make these comparisons effectively if the sample from each region is too small.

So, the sampling method, representation, and careful consideration of diversity used by Nike and Dove matters. For a truly comprehensive understanding, larger and more diverse samples, possibly supplemented by regional studies, would likely be more effective.

Whatever the case, these stats are striking. And on first thought you’d be forgiven to ask the effectiveness of Dove’s decades-long social impact campaign on body positivity. The reality is though, as new generations of girls emerge and the pressure of social media and that brought about by idealised advertising continues, the need to tame the beast continues. 

Why is the Nike x Dove partnership making sense? 

Kantar reported that both Nike and Dove were voted as Britain’s most inclusive brands. And Kantar says that “Just over half of UK consumers (53%) say a brand’s diversity and inclusion efforts influence their purchase decisions.”

On Nike, Kantar said, “When they were able to name a brand, Nike was most often cited, with respondents praising its inclusive advertising and a product range that caters to diverse needs. Several respondents mentioned values of diversity, fairness and inclusion that the brand embodies.” 

Speaking about Dove, “Respondents cited Dove’s inclusive advertising which represents people of different genders, body-size, skin colours and physical ability. Many also reflected on Dove’s reputation as a trailblazer in diversity and inclusion before “it was popular.” 

So both brands coming together for a powerful social impact campaign on the same cause, makes so much sense. The effectiveness, as mentioned, will ultimately be measured in generations to come. But with both brand’s writing cultural shift into their marketing budgets, it’s not just a campaign. 

With the help of their creative agencies and internal talent, in its infancy, this partnership has the real promise to reshape how young girls view themselves and encourage a generation of body-comfortable, driven athletes who stay in sport long enough to realise their potential. But, more than that, Barreto quoted earlier said, “…sports can help them to feel strong and confident in themselves and empowered by what their bodies can accomplish. It’s clear from research commissioned by Dove and Nike that girls who participate in sports - and stay with it through their teenage years - are more likely to have higher body confidence and experience benefits throughout their lives as a result.”

What will mark the success of the Nike x Dove partnership? 

Ultimately, I believe that the continued success of the Nike x Dove partnership will hinge on the ongoing studies representative across globe. But being open to the public, the “Body Confidence Sport” program has the potential to make a global societal wide impact across gender and age. 

And, I'm looking forward to potentially seeing this weave its way into the Nike Training Club App for all of us to benefit from. Self-coaching, self-correcting negative thinking as we are being trained with a diverse array of athletes in our ears championing us on. 

As the program evolves, I am sure a greater emphasis on the psychology and process our brain goes through when taking in negative social images and how we can work to combat these thoughts through exercise. 

I’m also keen to see how both Nike’s and Dove’s comms. teams reflect the ongoing partnership and being conscious to adjust messaging across regions. I’ll be looking out for my first email on this partnership from Nike. But it’s more than that: product innovation, email marketing, and the cross-section of athletes used to turn the message into action, motivation and ultimately lifelong body-comfort. 

The key to making it truly impactful lies in their ability to develop and execute initiatives that are both measurable and resonant. 

I’d be looking at the following as markers of success:

Comprehensive Impact Measurement: 

I think it's crucial for Dove and Nike to establish a robust framework for measuring the program’s success. This should include short-term and long-term metrics, such as immediate improvements in body confidence among participants, sustained engagement in sports activities, and changes in dropout rates over time.

Inclusive and Adaptive Content: 

The program must offer content that is adaptable to diverse cultural, physical, and social contexts. This inclusivity ensures that the program resonates with girls from various backgrounds and experiences.

Expanding Reach through the Nike Training Club App: 

Leveraging the app will not only broaden the reach but also build and develop on the content already designed to empower us all to push on and reach our personal best, whatever that may be.  

Engaging with Community and Educational Institutions: 

Could this spark a change in Physical Education at school? Nike is already suggesting great ways to improve the overall experience of PE at school - From fostering safe sporting spaces for girls, to encouraging “body-free talk” zones. Ultimately, the schools, sports clubs and community organisations will be the catalyst in the overall effectiveness. These strongly implemented, well educated partnerships can facilitate the integration of the "Body Confident Sport" program into existing sports and education systems.

Continuous Feedback Loop: 

Establishing a feedback mechanism with participants, coaches, parents and community members will provide valuable insights for continuous improvement. This process will ensure that the program remains relevant and effective and will demonstrate the genuine desire to create change, not just sell products.

Visibility through Brand Ambassadors: 

Utilising brand ambassadors and influencers who embody the program's values can increase visibility and inspire participation. These figures can serve as role models, demonstrating the positive impact of sports on body confidence. This is something the partnership has made a great start on. 

Addressing Broader Social Issues: 

Beyond body confidence, the program could expand to address related social issues like mental health, bullying, and gender equality in sports.

Global Scalability and Localisation

While aiming for global reach, it's essential for the program to adapt to local nuances. Tailoring content and delivery to suit local cultures and languages will enhance its effectiveness in different regions.

Public Reporting and Transparency: 

Regularly sharing progress and outcomes with the public will not only foster transparency but also build trust in the program. Sharing success stories and challenges can also inspire other brands to undertake similar initiatives and be good news for the marketing team.

Long-term Commitment and Evolution: 

Finally, I think Dove and Nike must commit to the long-term evolution of the program. By adapting to changing social dynamics and feedback, this will ensure the program remains a relevant force in promoting inclusivity in sports. 

By focusing on measurable results and innovative initiatives, they can create a lasting impact, encouraging a new generation of girls to embrace sports with confidence and resilience. The success of this partnership will not only be a testament to the brands' commitment to inclusivity but also a beacon for other companies looking to make a meaningful difference through their DEI efforts.

What Can Marketers Learn From the Nike and Dove Partnership to Forge Successful Brand Partnerships in 2024?

  • Shared Goals: The first step is to define the shared objectives of the partnership. This might include increasing brand awareness, entering new markets, reaching a specific target audience, or launching a new product or service. Aligning the interests of both brands is crucial to ensure a cohesive and successful partnership.
  • Identifying Complementary Strengths**: Each brand should bring unique strengths to the partnership, whether it's expertise, a loyal customer base, creative capabilities, or access to specific distribution channels. Understanding and leveraging these individual strengths can enhance the collaboration, allowing each brand to benefit from the partnership.
  • Defined Roles and Responsibilities: It’s important to clearly define what each brand is responsible for in the partnership. This includes understanding each party's contributions, timelines, and deliverables. Clear roles and responsibilities help prevent misunderstandings and ensure smooth cooperation.
  • Audience Alignment and Brand Compatibility: The target audiences of both brands should have some overlap, ensuring that each brand can benefit from exposure to the other's customer base. Additionally, the brands involved must share similar values and messages to ensure a coherent partnership and maximise impact.

Ultimately, what this partnership (with social impact at the core) teaches us is for success there needs to be a genuine hunger for social impact from both brands. Partnerships can’t be one sided, or a check-the-box initiative. If a partnership reeks of corporate tick-boxing, it’s not going to work. It needs to be genuine, well-thought out with brand leaders on both sides in it for the long-run.

You can establish if brand’s are a good fit right off the bat. After your initial research and analysis, bring your brand’s cultures together in one room. Openly discuss objectives, expectations, and visions for the partnership. Use it as an opportunity to gauge compatibility and the potential for synergy. Talk through what each of you want from the partnership and see if their priorities align time yours. This could include expanding into new markets, reaching a different audience segment, or enhancing brand reputation.

What’s your audience overlap and compatibility? Your partnership is more likely to succeed if both brands appeal to similar customer demographics and uphold complementary brand values. 

Of course, this is just the starting point. Legal teams will get involved and more further down the line. The Peloton x Lululemon partnership is a good case study. 

Whatever brand partnerships you’re scoping out for 2024/25 we can’t wait to hear from you. As for the effectiveness of Nike x Dove, only time will tell but it seems all boxes are ticked and the soil is fertile for this to be a strong start in their joint noble mission. 

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Kelcie Gene Papp
Founder & Editor