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Unilever Controversy

 I am pretty sure we have all heard about or seen the Dove “Real Beauty Campaign”. Studies had been showing that women had lowered their self-esteem because of the image society had of “beauty”.  It was not only a national but also international campaign that aimed to raise women’s self-esteem by using “real” women with real bodies in their advertisements.

The whole campaign started in 2004 and it consisted on breaking the stereotypical norms of beauty by showing these 6 women with normal bodies, not looking like supermodels at all. This led to the discussion of beauty issues in campaignforrealbeauty.com.
In 2006 they created the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, which had the objective of educating and inspiring girls and women about real beauty concepts. In 2007, the campaign kept running. A study was made that 91% of women ages 50-64 believed it was time for society to view women differently. The campaign praised wrinkles, spots, and grey hair. The campaign continues to run and Dove says there is more to be done.
Below is an example of Dove’s efforts of increasing women’s self-esteem in Australia.

Now let’s take a look at the complete opposite of this campaign. Axe is known for its unique way of advertising their product to young men by showing very attractive, almost unreal, women. Their main idea is that using Axe products will attract the prettiest girls to them. Their target market is to the guy who “has no clue what he’s doing, and things get awkward fast- the geeks and nerds” because they are the ones who the most help in getting women therefore they are easily persuaded. Axe has had huge success because of their targeting and marketing.

Axe advertises everything that Dove is trying to fight.

So what’s the problem?

Unilever owns Dove and Axe!

This makes us think, are Unilever’s values truly aligned or are they just trying to sell a product?
They have defended this criticism by saying that they have many different brands targeted to different market segments. After discussing with my group, we realized that the problem was that Dove was not trying to sell a specific product but instead it is a whole concept and Axe goes completely against it.

Laura Collins of the New Yorker reveled how Pascal Dangin, a famous photo re-toucher had worked on this Dove campaign, making the image of “real-women” false. But in an interview, Pascal Dangin said he does all kinds of work and not only retouches the images. He clearly states that all he changed was “colors and tone correction, the women’s natural beauty was not modified.”
Kelly O’Keefe, a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University AdCenter, said that Unilever was “playing with fire” by openly showing two completely different ideas.

My group and I think this controversy does indeed have a solution without causing a tremendous impact on Unilever, Dove or Axe. We think Axe should redirect their advertisements trying to keep focus on the fact that Axe will attract women but not objectifying them as much as they have been doing so.
For example, we would focus our commercials on how Axe can help a guy get through difficult times of this stage of life such as getting into college, meeting new people, meeting the girlfriend’s dad, etc. This way the attention would be more on the guy’s success and not just showing women as easy and vulnerable.
We believe this strategy will help keep both markets on top and still maintain Unilever’s values and image.


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  1. Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed learning about what your group would do if they were charged with helping Unilever solve this predicament. I agree with you and Will’s belief that it would be wise of Axe to no longer rely strongly on sexual innuendos when creating promotional materials for their campaigns. Companies like Old Spice have shown us that consumers will buy for reasons other than ‘sex’. I believe Axe has a great following and strong enough brand to pursue other platforms for advertising and sustain their success.

    With that being said, I am curious as to why your group did not choose to change Dove’s marketing mix and instead focus on rebranding Axe. When looking at the revenue brought in from the campaigns- it appears that Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done little for their bottom line. I guess you could also argue that the its not all about money and the social movement it created should count far more than profit earned! Either way, ’tis an interesting topic for discussion. Overall, great post- I really enjoyed reading it!

  2. Andria
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink


    I really enjoyed reading your post. I too was flabbergasted by the statistics Dove collected from the survey findings they found. The fact that only 4% of women truly find themselves beautiful is truly alarming. I think your recommendation is truly a great option for Axe. By redirecting their campaign they will have an advertisement that better represents their company as a whole and allow for their Dove brand to continue the wonderful campaign they have begun. Great job!

  3. Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Sofia, this is a great post. And I LOVE the photo, she is just beautiful. I totally believe that Unilever could definitely be considered as “playing with fire,” as Kelly O’Keefe said. I think at this point, both brands are coexisting semi-successfully, but I do think that future trends could create friction and Axe’s presence could seriously jeopardize Dove’s. It seems to me that consumers voice their opinions very loudly, yet don’t actually take a stand for what they actually believe. I’m interested to see how this behavior plays out with regards to this controversy.

  4. Tyler R
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE the picture you have at the top of your post. The “wrinkled or wonderful” ad is a great example of what Dove needs to be focusing on: getting people to understand that beauty is not this one-dimensional only-skinny-girl concept. I feel as if girls in general have a hard time aging because our society places emphasis on keeping our faces “tightened” (botox?) and our bodies tanned. These ads are simple and get straight to the point, and have the ability to make a difference to someone that may not have understood “real beauty” before.

    I also love your statement: “Axe advertises everything that Dove is trying to fight.” They really are! Your group had a good idea when it comes to reinventing Axe: start a new advertising campaign. I feel as if Axe has so much to work with, and they could potentially make a really humorous/meaningful video that reaches out to boys without making girls feel like objects.

  5. Will Llamas
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I like your groups suggestions about what to do with Axe. There is a way to show that Axe products attract women without objectifying them. In other words, girls don’t have to go crazy every time they smell Axe, they can just think more highly of the person wearing it. I have an idea for a possible commercial. Say a teenage boy goes up to a girl and asks her to a school dance or on a date. You can see it in the girls face that shes not thrilled about the possibility. Then, she gets a whiff of his Axe, and thinks otherwise and agrees to go with him. This is a subtle way of saying that women like the smell of Axe on men, a perfect solution Unilever’s problem. Then, they could almost keep Dove’s campaign without change as long as it becomes possible.

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