Dove Men+Care has turned to everyday athletes to connect with sports fans, a move the brand views as more relatable than partnering with a big-name professional athlete.
The brand’s new “Biggest Names” campaign stems from the fact that 81% of men say they work out or play sports at least once a week, said Amy Stepanian, marketing director of Dove Men+Care for Unilever, but seven in 10 men feel as though the everyday athlete isn’t represented in media – as elite professional athletes are usually the ones who push products.
“We saw this as an opportunity and moment to shift the perception of what it means to be an athlete,” Stepanian said.
Enter Chris Paul, Sean Williams, and Alvin Suarez. While the names might sound familiar due to their professional athlete namesakes, Dove Men+Care found these everyday athletes to help “paint a more inclusive picture as it relates to sports and athleticism.” Suarez, for example, grew up visually-impaired and plays goalball, a sport that relies on ear-hand coordination.
These three athletes, along with ESPN commentator Kevin Negandhi, have teamed up to promote Dove Men+Care’s new Sportcare line of products, which according to Stepanian is the first line developed by the company specifically for athletes.
The concept of using the three everyday men as the storyline in the campaign drew Negandhi to the campaign. He was able to spend a day in August with the trio in New York City and is excited to help share their stories – which will continue after the campaign finishes.
“When you look beyond the surface of the campaign, you find that each of these athletes has different layers to them but it all comes back to one core thing: their love and passion for sports and their communities,” Negandhi said. “I hope that people will have the chance to see that you can’t fit the definition of an athlete in a box. These three guys are a great example of how you can find ways to inspire others and show that you can’t be limited to what’s expected of you.”
The campaign is essentially the polar opposite of The Art of Sport, a brand co-founded by Kobe Bryant that includes a number of professional athlete partners that promote and help develop the products.
But there is a trend of brands using everyday consumers rather than celebrities to better connect with average customers, said Stephen Shapiro, associate professor of sport and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina. Shapiro cited Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign as an example.
The twist in the Dove campaign is the names being the same as professional athletes, he said.
“I like this strategy because it connects the average consumer with the famous athlete, in some ways combining the benefits of both types of endorsements,” Shapiro said. “From a marketing perspective, it takes advantage of vicarious achievement or the idea that you can live through the success of others.
“This is a common motivation for sport consumers because most of us will never play at an elite level. It is a dream that we may not obtain, but can achieve through the success of others.”
Dove Men+Care has worked to be a brand turned to by men of all athletic abilities and Negandhi said this latest campaign helps show that regular guys can be just as inspirational as professional athletes.
“Many brands would’ve chosen to partner with a famous athlete to launch a similar range of products,” he said. “Although professional athletes are aspirational, I think some brands underestimate the power of what relating to real people can do. Honestly, the viewers that are watching me on SportsCenter each day are everyday athletes, former athletes or aspire to be athletes which makes this campaign relatable to them.”
The current Sportcare campaign isn’t the first by Dove Men+Care to connect with an audience beyond professional sports. In 2014, the brand launched the “Caring Coach” campaign, focused on youth coaches. A few years later Dove brought in former NFL quarterback Carson Palmer for the “Real Strength” campaign and in 2017 launched the Real Strength Manifesto, talking about fan impact on athletes.
“Between these campaigns and more, we’ve addressed care in sports through our marketing efforts since the inception of the brand,” Stepanian said. “Dove Men+Care is committed to promoting a culture where men can confidently show care as a proud part of their masculinity., and many real athletes do that every day on the court, in the gym, and at home with their families.”