Dove is making a big push into content with the launch of its first video series under the helm of Dove Real Beauty Productions, the in-house studio it announced in March that boasts Shonda Rhimes as creative director.

Written by Rhimes and the Dove team, the series is being directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus — known for “Bobby Fischer Against the World” and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” — signaling the most significant investment in content the brand has made to date.

The first installment, titled “Meet Cathleen,” rolled out this week on YouTube and its website, alongside promotional content on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. It follows a real woman named Cathleen Meredith on her journey toward self-acceptance through her body-positive dance movement, Fat Girls Dance. In the three-minute film, which opens with a Dove logo but does not feature any Dove products, Cathleen encourages women to take their self-image into their own hands, rather than rely on the warped standards of society at large.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 3.16.17 PM (002) copyShonda Rhimes and the star of her first video with Dove, Cathleen Meredith

“Cathleen was such a no-brainer,” said Garbus, of the subject choice. “Hearing her ideas about herself and her journey towards self-love was so inspiring. She’s someone who has reversed a negative feedback loop that society has for her by looking at herself and deciding to love what she sees.”

The Dove team could not confirm how many videos we can expect, but said they are already working on the next film, inspired by one of many submissions received during a call for women across the country to share their #RealBeauty stories.

“From [campaigns like] Evolution to Sketches, Dove has always been moved by the power of film to tell the stories of real women and real beauty,” said Nick Soukas, the vice president of skin cleansing and baby care for Unilever USA, which owns Dove. “Our research has found that 69 percent of women don’t see themselves reflected in advertising, movies and TV.

Dove launched Real Beauty Productions, in tandem with the 60th anniversary of its famed Beauty Bar, to help shift that storytelling — taking the focus off Hollywood’s idealized woman and turning the camera on those real women can relate to. “We partnered with Shonda Rhimes on this project because of her commitment to sharing those real stories,” said Soukas. “She inspires a transformative view of beauty on her shows.”

BTS_photos9Behind-the-scenes of the Dove Real Beauty film shoot

According to Garbus, she was thrilled to take part in the unique project, branded or not. “It’s very much in line with the kind of films I’ve been making my whole career, and I was well aware of Dove’s history creating a multitudinous view of women and beauty” she said, not to mention “Shonda’s amazing track record of featuring such incredible female heroes in her shows.”

When brands have reached out to her previously, however, it wasn’t always such a given. “Some projects that have come my way haven’t felt like a great fit, given the messaging and values of the company,” she said, “but this was the opposite of that. I have a lot of respect for the images Dove’s been putting out there for a while now.”

Happily, she was given plenty of creative freedom, too, noting that there was occasional input by Dove but never any creative redirection.

This initiative comes at a time when many brands and retailers are looking toward content creation to keep increasingly distracted customers hooked on their message.

“People get their content through places like Netflix or Amazon, without commercials, so brands have had to rethink how they [relay] their messaging in this totally different entertainment landscape,” said Garbus.

BTS_photos10
Director Liz Garbus on the set of the first Dove Real Beauty film

And according to a 2016 study by IPG Labs and Forbes, investing in content like this pays off. It found that both brand favorability and intent to purchase were higher for companies that produced their own content — 7 and 9 percent higher, respectively — and that consumers were 14 percent more likely to seek out more information about a brand after engaging with its content.

Havas Group’s 2017 Meaningful Brands study also found that 84 percent of people expect brands to create content that provides solutions, experiences, entertainment or events. And those that make “meaningful” connections with customers not only performed better in the stock market between 2006-2016, but they also increased wallet share — or how much consumers are willing to pay — by up to 9 times.

Dove, obviously, got the memo. “It was the perfect time to amplify our programming to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety for all women and girls,” said Soukas.