Unilever under fire for hypocritical portrayal of women

LONDON - Unilever has been criticised for sending out hypocritical messages in its advertising, via a video that splices footage from its Dove viral ad 'onslaught' with that for its male deodorant brand Lynx/Axe.

"Onslaught" is part of Dove's "real beauty" campaign and shows a young girl's innocent face, and then a series of harsh images from the beauty industry, including plastic surgery and thin models, before ending with the line "talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does".

The spoof ad, which can be viewed on YouTube, features footage from various Lynx/Axe campaigns, including a very skinny woman with large breasts running in a bikini, women pole dancing, and women fainting in delight at a mere whiff of Lynx. All the women fit the stereotypical Western beauty ideals that the Dove campaign rejects in favour of "real beauty". The spoof ad ends with the line "talk to your daughter before Unilever does".

It has been edited by Rye Clifton, who said that he wanted to "add to the conversation that was already going on online".

Unilever has defended the Lynx/Axe advertising, with one executive telling the Toronto Star that it was "all around poking fun" and "a spoof of the mating game", while Simon Clift, chief marketing officer, told The Times: "It's just a few bloggers in the US who don't get it."

However, the US charity Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has said that 2,500 letters have been sent to Unilever's chief executive, Patrick Cescau, demanding that the company should "axe the Axe".

Unilever is criticised not just for the portrayal of women in some of its campaigns, but also for marketing products that are implicitly frowned upon on the "onslaught" viral, such as the diet brand Slim-Fast and products to lighten the skin.

The backlash against Unilever's campaign is a salient lesson for big brands using viral marketing to open up dialogue with consumers, highlighting the fact that the same power that spreads the messages that brands want consumers to see can also be harnessed by those who have an alternative point of view.

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