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Kathy O’Brien

Kathy O'Brien


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Trendsetters: Unilever's Kathy O'Brien Shares how a Brand that Empowers Women can also Resonate with Today's Men
Kathy O'Brien, Vice President of Skin and Marketing Services for Unilever North America, would be among the first to admit that men's lives are changing dramatically--to the point that we are now experiencing a conspicuous "evolution in masculinity."

Speaking last week at the ANA Brand Masters Conference in Southern California, and hosted by Unilever colleague, Rob Master, Global Vice President of Media, Categories and Partnerships, she shared how Unilever is redefining men's strength. A timely subject, as the company's global men's personal care brand, Dove Men+Care, launched its Real Strength campaign at the Super Bowl earlier this month to celebrate the caring side of modern men. Viewers will no doubt recall the poignant #RealStrength commercial that underscores how "Care Makes a Man Stronger," and features vignettes of children of all ages calling their father "Dad," "Daddy," or "Da-Da.”

According to Ms. O'Brien, "Today, dads are more comfortable with their role as caregiver and are also more caring of themselves." She referenced Unilever's "Crafting Brands for Life" strategy as being at the heart of understanding men's trends and enabling new, meaningful connections. The three essentials to "Crafting Brands for Life" include: 1.) Put people first, 2.) Build brand love, and 3.) Unlock the magic.

"In the same way that the Dove brand contributed to creating esteem for women and young girls,"emphasized Kathy O'Brien, "we saw that Dove could also tap into new ways that men now see as being masculine.”

Last year, Dove conducted a global research study entitled "Care Makes a Man Stronger" in partnership with masculinity author and researcher, Dr. Michael Kimmel, to survey men's attitudes across such diverse markets as China, Brazil, Germany, the UK and the US.

The study revealed:

  • 90% of men around the world see their caring side as a sign of strength.
  • 86% of men surveyed admit that the idea of masculinity has changed since their father's generation.
  • Just 7% of men around the world can relate to the way the media currently depicts masculinity, suggesting that media has not yet caught up with the evolution of modern masculinity.

"Men are more comfortable showing their warmer side," says Kathy O'Brien. "They can be vulnerable without losing their maleness. While previous generations defined masculinity by power, affluence and physical strength, we're now seeing that characteristics like integrity, authenticity, and how a man cares for himself and those around him are also critical to how he perceives his own masculinity.”

Dove's messaging continually points to caring and the evolution of masculinity. The Super Bowl spot bravely depicts this when physical feats are being emphasized on the football field. It also echoes of an earlier Dove Men+Care Father's Day Commercial. Plus, #realstrength enables men to post photos that show the caring side of men on a sharing website curated by Unilever.

View the Dove Men+Care Super Bowl ad here.

So what's next? According to Ms. O'Brien, next month Unilever will undertake a new worldwide training program called "ART" or encourage its brand marketers to focus on Authenticity, Relevance and Talkability for its product messages. Dove certainly seems to be well on its way.

Kathy O'Brien is responsible for overseeing Shopper Marketing, Marketing Communications, Hispanic and Low Income Consumers, Digital/e-Commerce and Marketing Capabilities. She also has brand building leadership responsibilities for AXE®, Dove®, Caress®, Lever 2000®, Suave®, Simple®, Vaseline®, Pond's® and Q-tips®. Ms. O'Brien has enormous experience across the company's Foods and Personal Care portfolios, including her time as marketing director for the Dove brand, the leading personal wash brand in the United States, where she was responsible for building brand equity and executing brand activation. During her tenure on Dove, Ms. O'Brien led programs that helped the brand achieve its initial goal of reaching 5 million girls with self-esteem programs.