an interview with Mari Smith
By Michael Stelzner – Social Media Examiner
Published October 17, 2014
The recent Dove campaign is attracting a great deal of attention and for a good reason. Quite frankly, it is brilliant, and I am among the thousands who shared this touching piece. When it appeared on my Facebook feed, I watched intently, and as the forensic artist revealed his contrasting drawings of women; one of how she saw herself and the other as a near-stranger saw her, I was brought to tears. I played the video more than once, pausing to calm the growing lump in my throat, and after I had thoroughly absorbed the story, like so many others, I shared it with my hundreds of friends.
The following day I attended a Communications class at the University, and to my surprise, a fellow student approached the front of the class and presented a research paper based on, of all things, Dove Soap. At the conclusion of her presentation, someone raised her hand and asked, “How do you feel, regarding the mixed messages in marketing and values considering that Unilever owns both Dove and Axe?”
I am sure my jaw dropped in disbelief, the recent video running through my mind. “How could this be? Why didn’t I know? Damn it, I SHOULD know!” Later, as the video appears again and again on social media feeds with gushing remarks and accolades, I find myself moving from disbelief to annoyance and then anger. “How hypocritical,” I think, recalling the beautiful women who believed they were ugly, picking apart the “protruding chin,” the “fat rounder face,” “the big forehead.” These women are far from “ugly” and yet the ever elusive “ideal” has left them wanting. And then I think of “Axe.” Ah, yes, and what do you think of their marketing message? Have you viewed lately?
To refresh my memory (and possibly yours) I have included an actual Axe video to demonstrate how the product has marketed women (not cologne-he has cologne, he gets women) to its apparent male target. Please click below to view.
Axe is an inexpensive cologne and soap line, not unlike other Unilever products, except that it has chosen to focus on a very carefully defined niche.
For the very few who have not yet had the opportunity to watch the Forensic Dove campaign, I have included it below.
I will not deny that the message is beautiful if not sad, however, if one considers the situation carefully and realizes that what is marketed here is soap, it becomes a bit of a quandary, at least for me. At what point do we stop to ask ourselves, “for what purpose is this message” and “how did it get here?” When did it become normal to analyze our appearance to such a degree? How and why do we measure our self-worth based solely on the thickness of our nose or the point of our chin? While I believe that pride in appearance aides to boost confidence, I hesitate to condone messages that play on ideas and insecurities to sell the product. Furthermore, given the product ingredient list, there is nothing on the label, either for Axe or Dove, that states “eternal happiness.”
My lesson here is to be careful what I share. I am also disappointed in myself for not realizing sooner that the message I found so touching was a marketing ploy, and me, the marketing person, fell for it hook, line and sinker. I am also disappointed that social media has not had a louder voice in correcting the inequities that exist with big business marketing online. In a perfect world, I would like to believe that information would allow everyone to see the truth behind the emotional guise, however, perhaps not. Always.
I prefer to know, and although I work in marketing, I believe marketing and advertising should be honest, ethical and beneficial to the greater good. I know…I will click my heels three times while Oz, I mean Unilever, remains safe behind its curtain, I mean walls. Some have commented, “Isn’t it better that they (they being Unilever) show redeeming qualities by sharing such an emotional, moving and important message?” I don’t know, is it? You can decide for yourself, as we each have our right to choose according to our beliefs. I know my decision is probably apparent.
On a final note, I have included a link to an “Environmental Working Group,” to use the power of information to protect human health and the environment.” It allows you to view product labels for what they indeed are, as well as search out labels that have agreed not to test on animals. Boring perhaps and far less emotional, but in my opinion, a good deal more useful. – http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
I have worked in media for more than twenty years: first as a starving journalist, then as a print ad sales person, later as a graphic designer, flash designer then as a market research person and more recently as an account manager for radio advertising. I know numbers and I know how to buy effectively and efficiently. I know to buy into programs and time slots, to optimize budgets, to buy unsold inventory, to run small ads with spot colour on b/w pages or to focus on top right and banner placements for greatest visibility. I know yell doesn’t sell and I know that no one will buy what they really don’t want. I also know that there is always another option.
In a nut-shell…I have a pretty good understanding of the industry.
However, I did not know about the passion and the power of a cause until I found myself in need.
I remember it all very clearly: Joy had called a few days earlier to say that the doctors were not sure what she was dealing with. Her left hand had “clawed”, and the atrophy was moving to her right. She mentioned brain cancer and I felt sick. She mentioned ALS and I felt better…because I didn’t know, and not knowing meant “not so bad”.
At least that is what I thought.
Joy phoned again a few days later to tell me she was diagnosed with “ALS” and I went to the computer to google, “ALS”.
Now for anyone who has had the misfortune of googling “ALS” you will already know what I then found out.
For those who haven’t I will share with you.
While on the phone with my closest friend I read:”Terminal disease, average life expectance of 2.5 years. Total body paralysis while mind intact. Death from pulmonary failure – drowning in lung fluid while remaining conscious, yet immobile and unable to communicate.”
I read and I was in shock. I said the only thing I could say, which was “let me help you.”
For the two years that she lived with the disease, her body disintegrating, I buried myself into the cause. She went on to check off her “bucket list” while I tried to find a “how and why”. I pursued social media only because that is where I found other people dealing with the disease. I discovered advances in science and uncovered fraudsters. I made friends, some who have passed, and I researched everything I could find on the disease, only to share what was possibly useful to others also living as PALS or CALS (people living with ALS and caregivers of those with ALS).
With the help of friends and family, we organized a fundraiser for Joy that raised almost $50,000.
After Joy passed, I continue(d) with my involvement and through this was introduced to Darrell Jamha. Darrell had ALS and a beautiful standard poodle named “Cash”. Through social media, I was able to find a home for “Cash” with Brett Wilson, and he is now the pampered “J.C.Wilson”. Darrell asked me to help him organize a fundraiser for his treatment, and I agreed, but given my experience I knew…too much. I told him and his group that the most important thing will not be the money raised, but the love and memories that you (Darrell) will take away from such an event.
They raised more than $100,000 that night, and I was proud to play my small role to make it happen for him. Darrell passed shortly after the event, but I know what it meant to him and those around him.
In conclusion, my involvement in cause marketing is much, much more than making sales. I believe that the individual and every business would benefit from reaching out and doing more. I also have found that social media is not friendly to advertising and corporate influence. As a business, if you want to get involved on a social sphere, then you better get your “human on”. Care. Give. Contribute. Mean it.