October 11, 2007

How does Unilever really view women?

Denver_ad_agency_unilever_dove_axe The Los Angeles Times just ran a story about a consumer group calling Unilever hypocritical for creating both Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" as well as the clearly sexist work for their Axe line of grooming products. Both campaigns have been highly awarded within the industry. And neither one looks to be losing steam. Dove just released their follow-up commercial to their Cannes-winning "Evolution" spot. It's called "Onslaught".

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood asks for a letter-writing effort on its website and demanded that the company pull the Axe campaign. Unilever defends itself by stating that the Axe work is clearly a spoof while the Dove campaign is serious and "dedicated to making women feel more beautiful."

This raises a whole lot of questions in my mind.

  • Is it the agency/client's responsibility to market their products in ways that don't contradict each other? Or is it their responsibility to connect with the market of the individual brand?
  • Is there a distinction between owning inherently opposed brands (such as a chocolate bar and a diet product) as compared to choices made at the strategic level (supporting female objectification and condemning it)?
  • I suppose the most pressing question I have, "Did Unilever really think nobody would find out?"

Leave us a comment below - would love to hear your thoughts.  --Gregg 


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when do i dove use than my face is dark...........what i'm doing now.......pls tell me

What do you expect them to do? Each product is targeting different audiences. Obviously the axe commercials are for young male entertainment. They cannot have one way of exposing each different product to the masses. Come on now..

Just saw this article on the Denver Egotist which includes a well-done video montage of both campaigns to show how ridiculous they are. --Ken

check it out at:


Sometimes I wonder if it would help any to interpret this whole thing differently. What if a woman could...

1) Watch a Dove ad and walk away with a sense of self-empowerment, then
2) Watch an Axe ad and walk away with the sense that she's an insanely sexy, cardinal and coveted creature?

I fear we're all at risk of a little naivete around the overall Real Beauty campaign. At the end of the day it was a brilliant, brave marketing strategy and idea. I think if you view it as marketing it doesn't seem duplicitous at all that they would take different approaches for different brands. It wasn't a Unilever campaign, but a Dove campaign. The problem - not a bad problem to have - is that the public has attached a Dove halo to Unilever rather than an Axe halo. The Axe work resonated at a brand not a societal level so we could keep it in a box called brand marketing. The double edge of Dove's success is that it's made Unilever seem like a corporation that truly cares more than it does. My two cents.

I just wrote about the Dove campaign this morning on my own blog, but from a slightly different angle. I compared it to Unilever's selling skin lighteners in other parts of the world.

I think Unilever figures that they make so many products that they're immune to any sort of consumer backlash.

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