An advertisement for a trip in May 2022 to Israel and the West Bank

One of the best advertising campaigns of late have been what Dove has produced related to the beauty industry and the negative impression it makes upon young women.

To combat the unrealistic standard of perfection held up by so many makers of beauty products, Dove produced a great YouTube spot called “Evolution.” I was amazed the first time I saw it.

Soon, Dove followed that up with a second spot called “Onslaught” that displayed an array of images that young girls are subjected to each and every day that inevitably become embedded in a young person’s mind as they begin to form their own definition of beauty:

The spots are fantastic and communicate a very valuable point about advertising and media today and its effects on all of us.

While attending Carol Cone’s session at Net Impact a few weeks ago, she called attention to these spots as a great example of corporate social responsibility. She cited Dove as a company who is seeking to make a difference first and one that then uses this as a marketing advantage second. And we all agreed.

Until someone brought up the point that Unilever, the parent company of Dove, also owns the brand Axe, which makes body spray and is best known for its commercials featuring scantily clad women.

This was the first I heard of this.

And this week Ad Age detailed the disconnect of such a message from Unilever. Their article called attention to this parody in which the images in “Onslaught” are replaced with images from Axe commercials.

Unilever can spin what it wants in whatever direction it chooses. But the smart consumer out there can clearly see that a company that claims to be solving a problem cannot contribute to the same exact problem. It’s like the drug company that creates a disease and then the medication for that same disease.

In a world of citizen journalists, this firestorm is quickly gaining more and more attention and has even crept into the mainstream media. It’s too soon to tell if Unilever will pull their Axe ads or unload the product altogether. My guess is that it will try its hardest to put out the fire and champion its Dove campaign all the more to hopefully show consumers that the greater good is their Campaign for Real Beauty, and not their Campaign for Female Stereotypes.

The lesson to be learned in all of this is that you must mean what you say and say what you mean. It’s important to do this, not because you’ll be found out and you won’t sell your product. It’s important to do this because honesty and transparency are two new core values consumers are looking for. Because of new media and the proliferation of information, your company’s legal battles, advertising ethics and production values can be known as easily as your low prices, great service or convenient location.

In other words, what your business is about is just as important as what your business is. You might make a great shirt, a terrific hamburger, or a delightful candle “ but if you don’t stand for something, you might see your sales fall for anything.

The how of your business now matters just as much–if not more–as the what.

And what’s so tough about this example is that Dove tried to do exactly that. They tried to be about more than beauty products–they tried to redefine what we all thought was beautiful.

But, by not letting the left hand know what the right hand was doing, Unilever ends up coming across as inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst.

The moral of the story? If you’re taking a walk down the lane of social responsibility, you’ve got to be absolutely consistent and committed. This ain’t no marketing gimmick.

Sam Davidson is executive director of CoolPeopleCare, Inc. This column appeared originally on his blog.

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