A few days ago, Dove unveiled plans to post billboards in The Garden State that would declare, “Dear New Jersey, when people call you ‘The Armpit of America,’ take it as a compliment. Sincerely, Dove.”
The company was hoping to send the message that an armpit is actually quite a lovely thing, and assumed the majority of its audience would understand and appreciate the joke. Matthew McCarthy, the senior marketing director of deodorants at Unilever, told The New York Times last week, “I don’t expect that there will be a lot of people who misunderstand, but to the degree that they do, we’ll be open about what we’re really trying to say…The message that we want to get out there is that the armpit is not a bad thing, and that we stand for caring for the armpit.”
Talk about misreading your audience — Unilever may want to invest in a new crystal ball.
New Jersey residents were not amused, and took to the internet in droves to express their outrage and defend their home state against what they perceived as a direct, decidedly un-funny attack. Here are just a few choice comments that were left on Dove’s Facebook page and on NJ.com:
“Regarding your new ad related to NJ: F*ck you Dove. Unilever products will no longer be purchased by me for anyone in my family.”
“If New Jerseys The Armpit of America. Dove [is] The Scum of the Earth.. (it’s not a bad thing.)”
“A marketing campaign that insults the people you are marketing to…Brilliant! You’re Hired!”
The backlash against the campaign was so swift and so overwhelming, the company has already scrapped its plans altogether.
In response to the outcry that McCarthy predicted would not come, he told The New York Times in an email: “Our intent with the ‘Dear New Jersey’ ad was to call attention to the fact that armpits can and should be considered beautiful and ask women everywhere to accept this as something that is O.K. We did not wish to cause any misunderstanding or offense. We take feedback from our community very seriously and will not be running this billboard advertisement.”
After taking a moment to drink a tall glass of water to wash down its foot, we imagine Dove will be heading back to the drawing board.