An Axe to Grind with Dove

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. –


2 replies
  1. Jodi M
    Jodi M says:

    Many people defend Dove because of the importance of the message…which is what Unilever’s intent is, and that’s what makes the campaign so much more effective. To create a support system, based on something that has absolutely nothing to do with Unilever’s product. How could anyone say something against such a truthful, sad message? The video goes viral, everyone is touched and the nefarious roots of the plan is lost on the emotional tug. I want to share because I work in this industry, and such manipulation angers me.
    On one hand, the company perpetuates insecurity by turning women into objects – near naked, skinny, young and of course, pretty objects – to be used by men, and on the other hand, they reap the benefits of the very insecurities that it helped create under a different name, AXE.
    Same bank account.
    Not everyone will agree with my thoughts, but I do think it is important for people to be aware and make their own call. It is information that makes the web useful, after all.

  2. lorriebeauchamp
    lorriebeauchamp says:

    We’ve gotten so far into this marketing mess that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. What we are reacting to in this Dove commercial is what the women FEEL when they see themselves mirrored by others – the artist in collaboration with themselves, and then through the eyes of a complete stranger. The rest is manipulation of the images, obvious editing and a message which, quite frankly, is boring. The emotion says to me that it’s hard to look inside ourselves and not be touched by the hypocrisy surrounding us in society. Real people do not go around saying “I’m beautiful! Look at me!” because we’ve told them that if they do, we’ll brand them as conceited and vain. Real people are humble, and do not see themselves as classic beauties. So what is this commercial really saying? Use our soap and you’ll feel more beautiful inside? I doubt it. Like I said, huge hypocrisy and mixed messages out there.


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