Unilever Accused Of Campaign For Real Hypocrisy

Thanks to HighJive for spotting this LA Times article spotlighting Unilever, the makers of Dove, Axe, and Fair & Lovely skin whitening products:

A consumer group accused Unilever of hypocrisy Tuesday for running conflicting advertising campaigns — one for Dove that praises women and their natural beauty and one for Axe that the group said “blatantly objectifies and degrades” them.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched a letter-writing effort on its website and demanded that the company pull ads for the Axe line of grooming products for men, which one online pitch says makes “nice girls turn naughty.”
Unilever shouldn’t be commended for Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” while promoting products with a starkly different message, said Susan Linn, the consumer group’s director and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“The campaign says they’re going to help girls to resist a toxic marketing environment but they’re creating that environment as well,” Linn said.
Unilever spokeswoman Anita Larson said the Axe ads were clearly spoofs.

Maybe Axe is tongue-in-cheek, but this Unilever ad isn’t a spoof, when it blatantly suggests Indian women need to whiten their skin to acheive “total fairness” in both their skin tone and in hiring practices:

I’ve talked about Unilever and its double-standards for some time now. In this week’s Ad Age, Bob Garfield also does a good job summarizing the issue:

We harbor no doubts about the sincerity of all concerned. In fact, we suppose many of those involved relish the opportunity not only, for once in their careers, to promulgate a positive, genuinely humane message but to also expiate their past sins. In that sense, at least for now, the exercise is not at all cynical. On the contrary, it is the path to redemption.
The hard part will be staying on the path. What happens when Dove sales begin to flag and market share begins to slide? That will be the test of true righteousness. Does the “Campaign for Real Beauty” then get disposed of, like last year’s fashions, or dubiously “enhanced,” like a pair of fake breasts?
We’d like to believe that the values embraced here are invulnerable to the onslaught of market forces. But we don’t.

In the LA Times article, Larson went on to say, “Each brand effort is tailored to reflect the unique interests and needs of its audience.” Check. In other words, Unilever itself pays more attention to its sales than its values or the impression its advertising makes on people. I suppose that’s a lesson little girls need to learn from a very young age.



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for TalentZoo.com and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.