In what's become buzz-building standard operating procedure, Unilever took ads for its Dove Pro-Age skin-care, hair and deodorant products to the U.S. broadcast networks, which promptly rejected them -- allowing the marketer to draw traffic to its website to see the "banned" ads.
"We did go to all of the networks to present the ads and discuss our messages several times," Stacie Bright, Unilever senior marketing-communications director, wrote in an e-mail. She said Dove hadn't approached any cable networks.
Spokespeople for Fox and NBC confirmed their networks had rejected the ads, which show side views of several older women but no frontal nudity. Spokespeople for ABC and CBS declined to comment.
One network executive termed the Unilever move "a big, fat publicity stunt," noting that the company originally approached the network in fall 2005 with storyboards, followed by finished ads last July, and was turned down. The network was never approached again with revisions, the executive said, until Dove earlier this month began airing a heavily edited version steering people to the brand website at doveproage.com to see "what we couldn't show you on TV."
The campaign is the latest iteration of Dove's much-talked-about "Campaign for Real Beauty," and the Unilever spokeswoman said the company wanted to "stay true to our message ... that beauty has no age limit and should be celebrated, not hidden or concealed."
Strategy worked for Axe
The "banned" strategy has generated buzz for another Unilever brand, Axe. A 120-second German-language ad for Snakepeel body wash, showing two young, bikini-clad women lovingly bathing one another by a pool, has generated more than 2.1 million views on Google Video. (For other full-body ads, watch the video for Unilever's Vaseline brand that's airing in the U.K.)
But Dove is having trouble infecting the viral video space this time.
A German-language post of the Dove ad on YouTube has gotten only about 600 views since it went up about a week ago. The U.S. TV ads from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, have twice been posted on YouTube and twice taken down since Advertising Age inquired about them last week. A spokeswoman said Unilever had the posts taken down because of confusion over whether U.S. YouTube rules prohibit a marketer or agency from posting ads on the site, though she said she believes consumers are free to post them.
Doveproage.com has gotten decent but not huge traffic, rising to around 50,000 daily visitors on Feb. 13, according to Alexa.com.
Ads running globally
While the public can't see the ads on U.S. TV, they are running globally, along with online, print, cinema and out-of-home ads in the U.S. "Oprah" earlier this month showed images of the campaign in an extended segment with the models as part of Ms. Winfrey's latest effort to support the campaign.
The Pro-Age models also have been featured this month on NBC's "Today" show and other outlets.
But the Pro-Age ads have fallen well short of the brand's biggest buzz producers of late, the "Dove Evolution" viral from Ogilvy, Toronto, that generated more than 6 million views, and a 20-second ad on the Oscars, featuring actress Sara Ramirez, from Dove Cream Oil's consumer-generated ad contest .
Overall, Dove continues to grow at a fairly rapid clip in the third year of Campaign for Real Beauty. Sales were up 10.1% to $589.2 million in 2006, according to Information Resources Inc., compared with 12.5% in 2005 and only 2% in 2004, when the campaign launched on a limited basis in the fall.