Truth and Lies

Unilever Understands Women... in Order to Deceive Them

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It took me a while to come around to embracing Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" -- not because I didn't love the ads from the beginning, but because I know that Dove has been in the campaign-for-fake-beauty business for the better part of a century.

Yes, the campaign touched on human truth, but to have Unilever -- one of the leading purveyors of unnecessary cosmetics and unhealthy weight-loss products -- suddenly glorifying natural beauty was a bit hard to take.

Ultimately, the simple emotional power of the Dove work won me over. But the hypocrisy issue nags.

Now comes another Unilever campaign, this one for Suave -- the discount personal-care line. It encourages young moms who have become disheveled by housewifery to rediscover their inner hottie. "Pretty Mommy," the latest spot is called.

As Ad Age's Jack Neff observes, this appeal represents "an ironic twist for a company that has stoked pop-culture debate with Dove ads celebrating women with more weight, wrinkles and freckles than the beauty-model norm."

Thing is, the spot is also fabulous -- because it's also true. Chasing after a rug rat and a household can be both overwhelming and utterly desexualizing. Some women, for the benefit of their own psyches, could use a reboot.

But here's the real question: what especially does Suave offer along these lines? Nothing, of course, except encouragement. Likewise Dove, which is differentiated from other soaps and moisturizers only by attitude. Which is not nothing. Nike, after all, built a multibillion-dollar business on advertising attitude.

But Unilever nonetheless implies that its products are somehow especially conducive to a) natural beauty or b) resexification. And therein the real irony: sometimes advertising touches on small truths, only to venture a big lie.
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