Tue, November 27 2007

Taking an Axe to the Dove: A Cautionary Tale

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Dove has made clever ad campaigns attacking the beauty industry and enhancing the self-esteem of girls and women. 

Here’s the problem: Dove owner Unilever IS the beauty industry.  As AdAge reported today, this moved an ad exec to point out the hypocrisy in his own version of the above spot, interspersing the girl’s face with an onslaught of… sexed up women from ads from Axe - also made by Unilever.

AdAge reports:

“The Axe campaign is a spoof of ‘mating game’ and men’s desire to get noticed by women and not meant to be taken literally,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

That, however, is the sort of distinction social media’s transparency renders difficult, said Jim Nail, chief marketing and strategy officer for brand-monitoring firm Cymfony. “Only one in 100 people may know that Unilever owns both brands,” he said. “But that one person is likely to be participating in social media.” And when that one person tells the other 99, it can change the nature of the conversation fast, he said.

Unilever is trying to be two things.  One thing that tries to scream good intentions—the Dove campaign—and another that does not, despite feeble claims that Axe ads are ironic.  When you try to pull this off, it only takes a couple of people with access to a computer to find and broadcast the hypocrisy.

What’s the lesson?  Don’t think you can be all things to all people and still maintain a strong and authentic identity.  It reminds me of the time a friend’s organization, which targeted teens, started a section of their website for parents—on the teens page.  They lost their identity in the eyes of their core audience.  Politicians also try this trick—they attack the Washington establishment as outsiders even if they’ve long been a part of it.  Unilever is doing the same - taking on the establishment that it created.

Being disingenuous is very dangerous in this day and age.

I’m always preaching one message, one audience.  Different audiences have different values.  So you’ll be talking about your organization in different ways to different people.  And you should.  What interests one group about your work does not necessarily appeal to another.  That’s seeking understanding.

What you should


do is to try to be different organizations to different people.  You can’t attack, hide or disown parts of your own work in order to enhance your appeal to someone.  That’s seeking trouble.  Just ask the Dove that got whacked by the Axe.



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