Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unilever: Mixed Ad Messages (2013)

Unilever Co. logo

This case involves the company Unilever, and two of their most popular brands, Dove and Axe. Customers believe that the advertising campaigns for each of these two brands are sending customers contradicting messages. Unilever's website boasts that they are a a company with brands that "help people feel good, look good and get more out of life." Consumers see this value continued through the Dove brand with their "Real Beauty Campaign" but believe that the lines get a little blurred when it comes to Axe. While Dove is passing along their message of positive self image for women, Axe is releasing an add stating “The Cleaner you are, the Dirtier you get.” In the Axe ads the women are all skinny and beautiful, which consumers believe are reinforcing the negative stereotypes about women. While in the Dove ads women are encouraged to love themselves no matter what their body looks like. Customers see this in the Dove ads, and then see half clothed women flocking to men using any Axe product. Axe is standing for everything that Dove is trying to rid the world of. Consumers wonder how it is possible that Unilever, a company whose mission is to make people feel and look good, is letting Axe get away with ads that belittle and degrade women.
Unilever has responded to these allegations by saying that both companies values do fit with the companies central goal. They believe that while Dove is making women feel better about themselves, Axe is doing the same thing for young men. Axe's ads target young men who are going through the changes of puberty. With the help of Axe and their ads, the company is trying to help young men feel less awkward about the changes that are occurring in their bodies. They believe that both brands are continuing the companies main goal, they're just doing it in different ways. They have also told consumers that the ads were meant to be humorous and were never meant to offend anyone. But Unilever doesn't seem to have any intention on changing the theme of the Axe ads anytime soon. Since last year Axe had a sales revenue of 6.23 billion dollars.

The stakeholders that are affected by this case are the customers of Unilever or anyone who purchases either Dove or Axe. Also anyone who views the advertisements for either brand may also be affected. These consumers may feel hurt or offended by the advertisements. The company Unilever is also affected since their profits will be affected if people want to stop purchasing products from the company. I also believe that since this controversy has to do with body image that anyone who has a negative self worth and all future generations that may develop these bad body images are all also effected.

When we think about this case from an individualism perspective, it is very obvious why the company continues to allow these two messages to coexist. Individualism values the business, the owner’s choices and the profits. Individualists believe that company’s actions should maximize profits for the owners of the business, as long as the actions are within the constraints of the law. Unilever continues to let Axe and Dove send customer mixed messages, because both of these brands make the company a lot of money. Every year Axe brings in around six hundred million dollars in sales, while Dove brings in about three billion in sales. With sales that high it is obvious to Unilever that both advertising techniques are working to maximize their profit, therefore should not be changed. Unilever is also not breaking any laws, therefore their actions would be considered ethical under an individualism view. Before the controversy consumers had a high opinion of Unilever, they were an honest and trustworthy company. But now that Unilever has continued to let the ads run consumers are changing their opinions. But since the company is not breaking any laws with the Axe campaign and since it it making them a boat load of money, Unilever isn't considered to be doing anything wrong. Unilever is doing the right thing because they are maximizing profits for the company.

Dove commercial supporting body positivity and self love
The utilitarianism view values the happiness of all parties involved. Also known as more pleasure and the absence of pain for the most amounts of parties. They believe that all actions should try to maximize happiness in the long run for majority of the people involved. “The basic method is to analyze the costs and benefits of a particular course of action.” When we look at the Unilever case through the utilitarianism, it would be considered unethical. Unilever is not trying to make the most amount of people happy. There is a large group of people who are not happy with the use of advertisements within Unilever. The stakeholders that are negatively effected by these ads are all women who purchase either product, any woman who sees the ads, or any woman who has a negative body image already. This is a large part of the population that is being made unhappy because of the ads. In this case all woman are involved in the business, because Axe is advertising negative stereotypes for the whole gender. This is a very large majority that is unhappy with Unilever’s business practices. While it seems that the company is making the consumers of Axe and the consumers of Dove happy, there are missing out on a large group of people. Unilever could maximize happiness of all parties involved by changing the values of the Axe advertisements. This way they would no longer be degrading woman and giving them body complexes. This would increase the happiness for a large majority of the stakeholders who are offended or hurt by the ads. This would also benefit the company since there would now be more people willing to purchase their products, intern making the stakeholders in the company more money.

Inappropriate advertisement by Axe shower gel

Kantianism values rational decision-making, honesty and freedom. Kantianism believes that business should always respect individuals and their right to make informed decisions. A company has a duty to inform consumers on all information about a product or service even if the information is unfavorable. A business also cannot make these decisions based on consequences that may occur, the decisions need to made because of the good will of the company. If a company gives consumers all the information about a product because they do not want to receive a bad reputation this is not considered ethical, they need to inform the consumers because it is the right thing to do. “Having good will necessitates that people have good intentions and use good reasoning to come to conclusions that will make their good intentions effective.” Kant believed that it was wrong to lie, steal or cheat. While Unilever isn’t stealing or cheating they are in a way, manipulating consumers by sending them two completely different messages to try to get them to buy their products. In this sense they are also lying to consumers because both perspectives on woman cannot be correct, one has to be a lie. Kant also believed that manipulating or using people to their own advantage was unethical. The formulation of humanity states that it is wrong to use people as a mere means to get what you want. Unilever is using people as a mere means of getting what they want, more profit. Therefore it would be considered that because of these two advertising techniques, Unilever is acting unethically. Unilever is using their brands to make money, not to do what is best for the consumers. Unilever is not giving consumers accurate information because the company is telling them two different values for woman. To be ethical Unilever must stop lying to their consumers and pick only one view on woman that they believe to be correct. Unilever needs to let consumers make informed rational decisions by giving them all correct and honest information. Unilever must make their opinion on Axe;s discrimination against woman known and stick with that opinion. That way consumers will be able to make decisions on whether to purchase the products based on correct information from the company. Unilever cannot continue to use people as a means to increase profit. They need to see their consumers as more than just dollar signs and be honest with them, because that is the right thing to do.

Virtue Theory
Virtue theory values character traits, which help with individuals flourishing within a society. In other words character traits that promote good character or that are virtuous. Virtue theory wants you to have positive character traits that make you a good person and avoid the unfavorable character traits. “For Aristotle, to know whether a person is fulfilling his purpose and potential, we need to know about his purpose and potential.” When we look at the Unilever case through a virtue theory perspective we have to look at the mission statement of Unilever. Virtue theory is based on whether a person or company is fulfilling their purpose in life. For a business they’re purpose is usually in their mission statement. “Our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. We work to create a better future every day, with brands and services that help people feel good, look good, and get more out of life.” If we base it off of this purpose it seems that Unilever is acting ethically. Both Axe and Dove, while they may have different target markets are meant to make people feel good about themselves. Axe helps young men who are going through the body changes of puberty feel better about themselves. While Dove helps woman feel comfortable in their own skin, despite all the insecurities woman have. Even though these two brands are helping people feel good about themselves in a contradicting way, they still are fulfilling their purpose to their own target markets. For this theory we have to analyze personal character of a company. After doing a lot of research into Unilever, it seems that the company does have good characteristics. The four characteristics that we look for in virtue theory are courage, honestly, temperance, and justice. Unilever demonstrates all these characteristics and more. Unilever donates to a lot of charities and cares a lot about making a better world for future generations by going green. Their main goal is also to make people feel better about themsellves. Unilever is a very virtuous company.


Salazar, Heather. The Case Manual. N.p.: n.p., 2014. Print.

Unilever Global Company Website. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

"Unilever Plc." Yahoo! Finance. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

Waikar, Sachin. "The Axe and the Dove: Managing Across Brands at Unilever." - A Case
     Study Summary. Kellogg School of Management, 1 Dec. 2012. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment