Surface messages, “greenwashing,” and the truth that lies beneath

There’s been an interesting discovery I’ve made by running in the circles I run in (so to speak) recently that underscores for me in a more philosophical way that things are not always the way they seem. In this case, I’m continuing the thought I started with my post on how pictures (which supposedly cannot lie because they’re taken of “reality”) can be manipulated to achieve a certain end (in that case with the intent being to show a “jubilant crowd” celebrating their “liberation” from the Saddam Hussein regime). With this post, I’d like to go deeper beyond the images themselves to the persons or corporations standing behind them seeking to use the images to portray a certain sense of who they are to the public.

Example A: There are two Dove commercials that have received huge airplay in the last year that seem to be a full-frontal attack on how advertisers manipulate images (whether pictures or video) of women to make them seem more “perfect” or “sexy,” which in turn makes young girls and women feel deeply inadequate about their bodies and destroys their self-esteem; not to mention lures men into false ideas of sexuality. Among other places, in the couple instances where I watched Oprah with my fiancee, the Dove commercials received a central place in the advertising in commercial breaks; with Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” tagged on at the end of the commercials. Here are the videos;

First one;

And another; called “Onslaught.”

Sounds good, right? Like how Dove really values young women and desperately wants them to know they matter? The Campaign for Real Beauty site has these cute stories from older women to aspiring young women as well as a “self-esteem zone” where girls can commiserate with one another and seek hopeful alternatives to our culture pushing twisted sexuality on them. And that’s good on a surface level.

A deeper look at the situation, though, reveals a different reality; one of projected image rather than authentic image. Dove is a subsidiary brand owned by a much larger conglomerate corporation that goes by the name Unilever. It just so happens that Unilever carries another brand in their personal care portfolio you may have heard of that goes by the name Axe (or Lynx for those in Ireland, Australia, or the UK). It also just so happens that the Axe brand promise is that it “gives guys the edge in the mating game.” Or, more specifically from their website, the “Axe effect” is “the internationally recognized name for the increased attention Axe-wearing males receive from eager, and attractive, female pursuers.” The different deodorant variants of Axe are marketed for different effects; Clix fragrance should be worn because “the mating game is all about amazing figures. Spray on, sit back, and count your clicks” (how many women you hook up with), and possible Touch users are encouraged to “use Touch under your arms and it’s only a matter of time before some sensitive, sexy ladies want to touch the rest of you.”

Combine these marketing slogans with television commercials like the following (which is incredibly tame compared to the rest of Axe’s marketing), and you start to see where I might be going here.

So Unilever is marketing one brand (Dove) as a way for women to recover “real” femininity and raise their self-esteem in the hopes that guys will recognize “real” beauty. And Unilever’s marketing another brand (Axe) with skinny, scantily-clad women swarming over fragrance-wearing men, encouraging men to mark their conquest of females with “clickers” to measure the numbers; in short, maintaining a message of sexuality completely the opposite of the one they supposedly profess with the Dove brand. Sound contradictory? Of course it is, but the average consumer doesn’t know it; especially when Oprah’s pushing Dove and the “Campaign for Real Beauty” has a slick website and a feel-good message.

This is a classic case of presenting images of products and preying on the desires and fears of various demographics in order to maximize sales. The contradictory message displays Unilever doesn’t give a rip about the self-esteem of women or the evolution of male sexuality and female sexual image in our culture; they’re latching onto both to make a little (or, more accurately, an obscene amount of) coin. This is related to the practice corporations are pursuing now that being more globally-conscious or “sustainable” or “green” is a social fad. This practice is called “greenwashing,” where the corporations don’t change their practices at all (or do in negligible amounts), but hire a PR firm to spin the company in such a way that it appears to care about sustainability; thereby capturing the wallets of those who seem to care about such things.

Unilever is engaging in a campaign of disinformation and manipulation of emotion and desire to sell a product. Not only is this misleading and hypocritical, it is deeply immoral. Clearly, Unilever is not the only corporation engaging in such practices, but this does not absolve them of responsibility. Just another reminder that what something appears to be on the surface is not always so in reality. Be aware that we are considered potential “giving units” with emotions to be preyed on to extract brand loyalty and desire fulfillment. Just a thought.

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4 thoughts on “Surface messages, “greenwashing,” and the truth that lies beneath

  1. That first video in particular is amazing. Not only does this hurt women, but it also can hurt men quite a bit, as you mentioned. A man can slip into a fantasy type of world with an image of a girl on an ad, while the image isn’t even real. It’s airbrushed many times over. A few years ago Jamie Lee Curtis posed in a picture wearing spandex and a sports bra – revealing herself, no modification. I really appreciated it. It was like she was saying, “yup, this is me, and I’m not super thin and super hot.” I hope that women in America are able to look at that and breathe a sigh of relief.

  2. Thanks for that response Ian…that Jamie Lee Curtis example is a great one!

    I should say too, for the sake of clarity here, that I hope this post in no way suggests I am somehow completely free from the clutches of the twisted sexuality I talked about here. In some ways, I am still deeply enmeshed in false ideas of sexuality and still deeply desire things marketers have manipulated me into wanted (thinking I need).

    I just offer this as some of my reflections as I claw my way (a lot of times one step forward and two steps back) toward a healthy perspective and lifestyle (and honorable treatment and understanding of women).

    It’s the pursuit of integrity, and it is messy. Man, is it messy.

  3. Pingback: John Mackey, health care, and wisdom… « Thoughts and Ruminations

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