Women & Gender

Bethel: Unilever promotes contradicting messages through Dove, Axe brands

Dove – a brand that has declared itself a representation of “real” women everywhere. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty revolutionized the beauty industry by openly speaking about how society’s perception of the female ideal is distorted.

The brand Axe derives its success by convincing teenage boys that its line of products will make them irresistible to the opposite sex. The “Axe Effect” causes all women to become sex-crazed maniacs that aggressively pursue any male wearing the product.

To the average consumer, Dove and Axe have nothing in common. They are two completely different brands conveying different messages. But Dove and Axe actually do have a substantial commonality – they share the same parent company, Unilever.

Unilever owning both brands is certainly a contradiction. But while some call it hypocritical, and even morally wrong, those in the industry call it strategy.

When Dove’s real beauty campaign started in 2004, it had a large effect on female consumers everywhere. Dove became more than a brand, it became a symbol for women to be comfortable with their bodies.

For once, women were being told they were beautiful no matter what they looked like, instead of being compared to thin models in the media. This was a shockingly unconventional approach to advertising in the beauty industry when the campaign debuted.

The success from the campaign led to the establishment of the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, an international effort to help improve female self-image issues.

But the genuine message Dove projects loses its meaning when its parent corporation also owns Axe. It becomes less about Dove caring for its customers and more about how Dove is using the Campaign for Real Beauty to increase its sales and public image.

According to Unilever’s website, its mission is to help people across the globe feel good and look good. But one of Unilever’s international brands, Fair and Lovely, takes the idea of “looking good” too far.

Launched in India in 1978, Fair and Lovely is a beauty line that promises lighter-looking skin with regular usage. The product is popularly used in India, where fair skin is considered beautiful and a sign of affluence, and darker skin alludes to having little or no wealth.

Unilever’s ownership of brands such as Fair and Lovely and Axe make it hard to determine if what Dove is doing can be considered progress. Its affiliation with the parent company directly contradicts everything it is working to improve about the beauty industry.

But even with the question of principle at hand, Unilever’s inconsistency hasn’t stopped consumers from indulging in its brands. Both Dove and Axe have increased in revenue and popularity as a result of their ad campaigns.

Even if people recognize the company’s inconsistencies, good morals concerning beauty are not a social issue warranted by our society to protest.

Some argue Unilever is not at fault, as one company cannot be to blame for society’s perception of beauty. But that explanation fails to grasp the bigger picture.

If Dove’s campaign was sincere in its message and stood alone from Unilever, its claims to support real beauty would be credible. Until Dove steps out of Unilever’s shadow, its campaign cannot be considered progressive for feminine beauty.

Paris Bethel is a sophomore advertising major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at pbethel@syr.edu.

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