Toronto Feminists

Letter to Unilever about Being a Hypocrite – Dove vs. Axe Marketing Campaigns

Unilever Head Office, Paul Polman CEO
Walton Court, Station Avenue,Suite 1500, 160 Bloor Street East, Toronto  M4W 3R2
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey  KT12 1UP

Unilever Canada, Christopher Luxon, President and CEO
Suite 1500, 160 Bloor Street East, Toronto  M4W 3R2  416-963-4781   Fax 416-963-5197

Dear Mr Polman and Mr Blanchard,


As a young woman, I am saddened by your decision to put your profits over the mental health of girls and women – you’ve demonstrated this clearly in your blatant advertising hypocrisy. 


Ø       I thought that Dove was a terrific organization trying to bring a lot of attention to the harmful stereotypes shoved in everybody’s faces – TV commercials, radio commercials, or billboards, you name it!

Ø       I thought that the Dove advertisements were wonderful and a refreshing change to see plastered all over my Toronto Transit System.

Ø       I thought that Dove actually had a conscience and had a shred of respect for its female customers.


I thought wrong.



Ø       Unilever is throwing money to the self-esteem fund for young women and girls in order to promote a healthy and self-loving body image in today’s media – saturated with sexist stereotypes

Ø       And simultaneously creating ads of women in degrading roles in which women are sex objects – to be consumed by your male viewer just like the product you’re trying to bribe him with – in this case, Axe products.


So you first contribute to women feeling badly about their bodies and sexuality, and THEN you promote the Dove Self-Esteem Fund to help reverse the problems that you helped produce in us to begin with.



Have some responsibility!

Ø       Do you really want to alienate half of your market plus the many males who also resent your tired, worn-out images?  

Ø       We are sick and tired of seeing fake-breasted, under-nourished, fake hair-coloured women being shoved in our faces and sold to us as desirable. What does any of this have to do with Axe body spray, anyway?

Ø       We don’t want to see sexist and exploitative ads anymore. Where have you been?


Your shameful tactics to make a profit are not lost on your consumers – and I’m well aware that I’m not the only person who’s fed up.




Response from Christopher Luxon:

Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with us.  I’m sure you can appreciate that as individual brands, and as a company, Unilever takes its marketing responsibilities very seriously.


We have a wide portfolio of everyday consumer brands across both foods and home and personal care – offering products to consumers that address different needs.  Each of our brands talks to its target consumers in a way that is relevant and that communicates its own unique proposition.


What unites all the products in the Unilever portfolio is our Vitality mission, which seeks to promote products that help our consumers look good, feel good, and get more out of life.


Unilever is a large, global company with many brands in its portfolio.  Each brand’s efforts are tailored to reflect the unique interests and needs of its audience.  The Dove brand is dedicated to making more women feel beautiful everyday by widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring women to take great care of themselves.  As part of this commitment, the brand created the Dove Self Esteem Fund to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty.  The brand is dedicated to reach 5 million girls by 2010 with self esteem programming (in addition to the million girls they have reached thus far).


The Axe campaign is a spoff, of the “mating game” and men’s desire to get noticed by women and not meant to be taken literally.  This campaign is targeting guys 18-24.  Axe regularly tests its campaign with men and women who have shared they see these ads as clever and funny.


Consumer comments are very important and evaluated on a regular basis.  Thanks again for sharing your views with us.




Christopher Luxon


Written by erishkigal

February 1, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Interesting article, i will come back to your blog soon, best regards

    Buy creatine

    May 19, 2009 at 9:20 pm

  2. Talk about a wholesale response.

    Anyways, these douche bags should know that “copy testing” or seeing what people in their “ad testing experiment” think about an ad has tons of errors involved.

    A major problem is that a lot of people being tested will lie or exaggerate either to impress other people in the group or to feel accepted.
    Also, according to my advertising text book, whenever an ads content is being tested before it goes on air, the group of people they test the ad with are a small portion of the overall target market (the group of people the ad is supposed to be seen by and appeal to), Axe claims that its target demographic is men age 18-24/ however, they claim they have had women in their tests. (maybe they did but I thought that I would point this out)

    Note: Axe has teamed up with MTV’s “The Gamekillers” and 36% of MTVs Audience is under the age of 18 so they can’t claim that young people are unlikely to encounter their ads. And yes, Advertisers and TV Shows and other forms of entertainment have teamed up into a new form of advertising called “Advertainment”.
    -Also, the fact that the subsegment of the desired market segment is so small that it may not even accurately depict the beliefs and attitudes of the whole.
    -If the testing method is a focus group, oftentimes a single member of the group could dominate discussion if improperly moderated.

    “Unilever takes its marketing responsibilities very seriously”

    A huge company like Unilever should know that multi-national multi-billion or million or insanely wealthy companies, only 200 of which control the majority of the worlds money supply, have a CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY.
    They not only have to worry about profits but also legal and social responsibilities.
    The reason why is that these huge companies have so much power and money that the decisions they make can potentially affect the whole world. We are their stakeholders. (If you think Im naive or stupid, I’m just telling you what I learned from business ethics class)
    They seem to neglect the social part.

    And someone needs to tell the so-called “creatives” at their ad agency that it is POSSIBLE to be funny and clever without reinforcing and promoting gender stereotypes and using explicit imagery that objectifies women and causes them to feel as if they have to be dirty sluts to please men. Their ads make it seem as if the only thing men have to offer is a scent. The women in their ads are mindless sex zombies.
    Perhaps someone should also tell them that they are not very creative. Excessive sexuality in advertisements is a sad excuse for creativity and often, they have nothing to do with the product.
    People might think these ads are funny on a superficial level, like oh, haha, these scantily clad women are totally ignoring this average male, then he uses some cheap perfume, and their all over him like flies on shit. haha. But the effects that they have on society are not positive.

    They may claim that the ads only run late at night whenever (most) children are not watching, but children are not the only ones who are negatively affected by the cultural messages that Axe is sending out.
    It affects men negatively by viewing women as trophies, stupid trophies with tits that are easy and always ready to please regardless of the fact that he has nothing more to offer them than a scent. a womans ability to say “no” is a threat to mens ability to get laid, by “removing” her ability to resist sex by using axe spray they are promoting the darkest aspects of biological male desire. In essence, the lack of consent in sexual relations is considered rape, however, because the man is not physically forcing the women to go down on him, many people might not associate this with rape at all, however, the notion that the axe effect is kind of like a date rape drug (notice in commercials that the women completely have changed judgement and demeanor under the effect) is not really a stretch.
    On youtube, in response to Axe Hair “care” products where male with the undesirable hair cuts and crappy pick up lines were being rejected by females, several men in the comments section were extremely offended by the fact that they were being told what hair style women liked and that they would be rejected if they didn’t look the right way. Whats even worse is that rather than lashing out at the people who created the commercial they lashed out at women, many of them said that they did not care what women think because they are all stupid (wonder where stereotypes like this came from) and they didn’t need anyone to tell them how they should look. Who can blame them?

    I know that as a woman I don’t like being told how I should look and have the media imply that my concern should be pleasing the opposite sex by being eye candy.
    And yet, these men are lashing out at woman blaming them and complaining about how they don’t like being told how they should look when women are being told that all the time. (I know this isn’t all men but I think this unwarranted sexual fustration and view that women are stupid is largely a product of the media)
    It affects women negatively by reinforcing that the “objects” (pun intended) of desire in the ads have unobtainable beauty (fake tits, photoshopped bodies and faces, professional make up and hair, etc)for the average woman.
    These girls desire to be desired will result in more time being spent trying to look good for men and attention than it will be spent in things they truly enjoy and other constructive activities such as introspection and education.
    Axe ads praise women for wearing slutty clothing, acting like mindless whores and being openly accepting of and maybe even desiring to be objectified, to be appraised by men like livestock at a county fair. Oftentimes men like this because these are the kind of women it is easy to please, they can get laid and not have to work for it by being a good partner or foreplay, however, this is not realistic. In a relationship women have needs (as do men) and in a successful relationship, men and women work past their inherent differences and help one another meet those needs. However, a print ad I saw the other day clearly told me how Axe feels about commitment and relationships when I saw an Axe ad with one man who was in a suit and had a wedding ring was on one side, and another man, who was, apparently under the axe effect, was shirtless and doing a “look at me, Im so hot” kind of pose. In the other versions of this print campaign the men who were contrasted from the axe user had a baby or a puppy. It seems to me like this is an anti-commitment, anti-sensitivity ad and while I don’t think that all men should get married, have babies and get pets, I think that the bonding that would occur in all three situations are things that should never be dissed, especially by corporations with a heavy impact on society, such as Unilever.
    Sexuality is no longer sacred because of ads like this. It is no longer something that is a consummation of two peoples profound compatibility. Its a lot more challenging to manage a relationship than it is to have a one night stand with someone that you have no respect or concern for.

    Axe ads
    – Promote Sexual Promiscuity
    – Promote Sexual Stereotypes of Men and Women
    – Glorify unobtainable standards of beauty and put people at risk for eating disorders and dissatisfaction
    – Display a negative view of Relationships, Commitment and Sensitivity
    – Insinuate that desirability is only achieved at a superficial level

    /end rant

    anyways, thats what I have to say for now 😀


    October 30, 2009 at 11:53 am

  3. Hi. I just wanted to say something about Dove and the Axe ads. First let me start by saying that I am 21 year old African American woman. In the beginning, I was happy that Dove was trying to promote a healthy image by doing these ads. One day, it dawned on me. Dove IS a beauty company, too! Instead of Dove using womens insecurities to make profits, they are still… well… using womens insecurities to make profits! In short, they are still committing the same crime they are accusing the rest of the beauty industry of doing. They are telling women that they care about them when in reality they don’t. They are just banking off of our anger and emotions.

    Some women need to toughen up. I wish women would quit sitting around waiting on the beauty industry or a man to tell them they’re beautiful and start believing it for themselves. As the saying goes, “No one can walk all over you unless you’re laying down.” Stand up women!

    I also wish women would quit being mean to one another. Who says the girls in those ads are malnourished and have fake breasts? Some women are naturally thin and have close to idealistic figures. They do exist, trust me. I’m 5’6″ and I weight 130 lbs. I always feel like I’m walking on egg shells with some women, because women tend to be so mean to other! Some of the most hurtful remarks about my looks have from women. Not the media, not men, but my “sisters”. I’ve been looked at up and down, been told to eat more, etc. etc. I eat perfectly fine, I exercise, I’m confident, and I’m happy. Why should I have to suffer insults because someone else feels insecure? I shouldn’t. It’s not fair. If women want to end this vicious cycle, they need to 1) start acting like sisters 2) need to develop some thicker skin. No one on this earth can make you feel insecure unless you allow them to.

    Another part of this issue is that parents need to start talking with their kids about beauty, sex, and gender roles. Too many parents let the TV baby sit their children while they’re out working all day and night or while their too busy on the cell phone to talk with their kids. Then when the child has reached adolescence, they want to know what happened. Parents YOU happen. You have the biggest influence in your child’s life. I’m tired of the media being held 100% responsible for parents’ lack of parenting.

    Another thing I want to add is the fact that Dove, who is promoting this “Campaign for Real Beauty” still features idealized women in their ads. Most of the women in the Pro-age ads are idealized. They are fit and attractive women. The “heavier” women they show in their ads are idealized. They have probably undergone some photoshop to remove some things the people being the ads feel are undesirable. Also, there is a lack of minority women in their ads. Most of the ads show Caucasian girls and women. Sometimes Asian women and girls are shown. Rarely are African American girls and women are shown. I mostly see Caucasian women complain about the beauty industry and how they promote thin women. Let me say that African American women are lucky to be featured in anything, even in the year 2009. We are still considered less desirable than our sisters of other races. This is something women of all races need to pay attention to.

    Always note that whatever you see from the media is fake 95% of the time. While Dove was carrying out their campaign for Real Beauty, trees in the Amazons were cut down to sell their products, destroying the homes of innocent wildlife and the indigenous people living in that area. Everything has a price and at some point, someone is hurt. Dove seems to have hurt a lot of people with these fake ads. This is why I quit taking the media seriously. When you think they care, they actually have a hidden agenda.


    November 23, 2009 at 3:54 pm

  4. I’m surprised no one here called out Dove for selling skin lightening cream in Northern Africa, India, and the Middle East.

    Rocky Lore

    December 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: