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Unilever Sends Mixed Messages About "Real Beauty"

Unilever Sends Mixed Messages About "Real Beauty"

Unilever may claim not to see a contradiction in these two ad campaigns, but most likely, it just doesn't care.

October 16, 2007 —

When Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" ads started running, they met with an overwhelmingly positive response from consumers and critics tired of what sexually exploitative and denigrating images of women in the media. The ads featured women of all ages, body types and ethnicities. They seemed to be a lone beacon of self-esteem building positivity in a sea of narrowly focused, shallow depictions of the female body in advertising.

But these types of depictions are the defining principle behind the marketing strategy for Axe Body Spray, another of Unilever's brands.Much like the Dove ads, the "Axe Effect" spots are almost impossible to forget once you've seen them, but for entirely different reasons. The ads are so over the top that even the most ardent chauvinist may be a little put-off by them, if only for having been marketed to in such a callous way. But that's pretty much the point. Everything from music to art direction is built around mimicking 1970's porn/sexploitation films, harkening back to a time when sexual freedom and male primacy lived side by side. Luckily, all the modern man needs to travel back to that glorious time, is a five-dollar can of spray deodorant...

Ultimately, it may be unfair by the standards of the corporate world to hold a company like Unilever responsible for the contradictory advertising messages of two of its roughly 400 brands. The ads are after all, created by different ad agencies and targeted toward two very different demographics. But that's partially what makes accountability so difficult to come by in an age of multinational corporations. If parents are upset about their 13 year-old daughter seeing an "Axe Effect" spot on MTV, who do they complain to?

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