Well never fear, because the Dove Self Esteem Fund is here! When I first saw the Dove campaign for female empowerment a few years ago I thought it was so great that a beauty products brand was finally trying to do some public good and honestly it made me want to buy their products because I felt like I wasn’t being sold a lie: in this view it was a quality line of hair care products that stood out. Dove’s contribution to “real beauty” was a drastic departure from some other brands like Pantene that tend to show this ridiculously sleek hair that you will supposedly attain in using their product…
Anyway, Dove’s campaign was very smart because it was different, it was “real” in the sense it was addressing a real issue. Their ads featured real women talking about their insecurities and Dove quickly gained a reputation as a benevolent company that was trying to change the face of advertising.
Now that’s all fine and dandy but when you look at the other brand that Dove’s parent company, Unilever, owns it becomes all too clear that the corporation’s advertising strategies consist mainly off of exploiting and taking advantage of people’s insecurities in a gendered way. Unilever owns both Dove and Axe, and both companies manufacture mainly hair care products, deodorant, body sprays and lotions geared toward each opposite sex. While Dove is now starting to incorporate a line of men’s products into their brand, they also make it very clear that this line is reserved for men only, with a drastically different design and scent.
Back to the problem with Axe and Dove. While I have a problem with any product in general being marketed restrictively for only one sex or any kind of particular demographic for that matter, it’s even more a problem when that company makes use of stereotypical representations of male and female insecurities to sell their product, and to do so in a sneaky way.
Axe doesn’t seem to be too bad concerning hidden messages because their marketing scheme is very crude, their advertising tactic seems very clear cut. “When you use Axe, bitches will come flock.” Basically. Watch below:
Let’s deconstruct this. So an average looking guy walks up to shower with his manly, sexy shower gel. All the girls on the beach are immediately drawn and inexplicably begin to imitate him and his movements. There is soooo much going on here. While the message outright appeals to younger guys, it is precisely because this company knows that this demographic is being implicitly told in society that in order to be popular, well-liked, successful, etc. they have to be able to attract women. And Axe shower gel is one of the mediums through which this is possible.
Further, he gets to control the women in using this product. Women are not only mesmerized and attracted, but they are also willing to do whatever he wants–minus take off their tops, the humorous spin in the end and way the brand saved its own ass at the last second so that the commercial was mildly acceptable and air-appropriate. These women perform the same actions he does and that is a very powerful message, even as it appears to be of secondary concern.
Meanwhile, you look at the Dove ads.
This ad is sending a good message to begin with, and I’ll admit it is a refreshing change from most commercials. However, it’s not telling us anything we don’t already know about the advertising and beauty industry, and even more it’s managing to profit off of ultimately articulating a message that people want to hear. In the process Dove is also managing to reduce all women as being insecure, like this is an issue that does and should plague all women. It assumes that all women internalize restrictive and constraining messages and images of what beauty is and thus disempowers them to make their own decisions as to what matters in their lives.
Just a short post for today since I am in the process of wrapping up exams, but I would love to know everyone else’s thoughts on Unilever. This is somewhat old news by now, but do you think this company is hypocritical in the drastically differing messages each of their sub-companies send?