Advocacy Group Blasts Unilever’s ‘Hypocrisy’

NEW YORK A children’s advocacy group is calling on Unilever to stop sending mixed messages with its advertising for Dove and Axe.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based group that cliams to have 15,000 members, this week began a letter-writing campaign aimed at Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau. The organization claims that Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s work on Axe “epitomizes the sexist and degrading marketing that can undermine girls’ healthy development” while Ogilvy & Mather’s “Real Beauty” ads for Dove promote healthy self-images for women.

“The hypocrisy is Dove positioning itself as a brand that cares and is trying to teach girls to resist this messaging,” said Josh Golin, associate director of the CCFC. “At the same time Unilever, in the form of Axe, is putting out some of the worst messaging there is.”

Unilever said in a statement that the Axe ads are spoofs: “Unilever is a large, global company with many brands in its portfolio. Each brand’s efforts are tailored to reflect the unique interests and needs of its audience. The Dove brand is dedicated to making more women feel beautiful everyday by widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring women to take great care of themselves. As part of this commitment, the brand created the Dove Self-Esteem Fund to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty. The Axe campaign is a spoof, of ‘the mating game’ and men’s desire to get noticed by women and not meant to be taken literally.”

Golin said such claims were disingenuous. “The young girls who are seeing this, they won’t get any of the satire or see it as spoof. I think what they’ll see is young women degrading themselves in these ads,” he said.

Ogilvy’s “Evolution,” a 75-second time lapse spot that showed the lengths it took to transform a woman into a billboard model, won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival and was hailed by women’s groups as a step forward for the beauty industry.

Last week, Ogilvy released a new Dove spot called “Onslaught” that depicts the sheer barrage of beauty ads seen by young women.

Unless Unilever changes its marketing strategy for Axe, Golin said his group would try to stop Dove from doing workshops in schools aimed at teaching young women how to deal with poor body image. “We’re concerned about Dove using its ‘Real Beauty’ campaign to go into schools in the guise of promoting media literacy,” said Golin. “We may focus our efforts on getting Dove out of schools, by raising awareness of what they’re doing around schools.”