Can Unilever deliver authentic messages to both the Axe and the Dove audiences?

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There is a discussion about “brand multiplicity” going on over at www.cultureby.com. The discussion started with a comment from Martin Bishop. Here’s a quote:

“Viewers are struggling to make sense of how Dove can promise to educate girls on a wider definition of beauty while other Unilever ads exhort boys to make ‘nice girls naughty.’ … Unilever is in the business of selling products, not values, and that means we, the consumers, are being manipulated, no matter how socially responsible an ad seems.”

Andrew Smart hinted me and I find it quite interesting. Will a company that is selling products, not values, do better and better or worse in these authenticity/environmentalist/CSR/global warming-times?

I thought I’d share a thought as I’m working on something that has it’s similarities. I’m sure to receive a beating for it. Here’s the last comment (mine) in the string as of now:

The need for authenticity means a need for integrity

There is a point in discussing how two sets of values embraced in commercials by two so-called product brands represent some sort of integrity with the corporate brand – or wether they don’t. Evidently, and to an increasing degree, consumers see through product brands and take into account which company the product (and “it’s” communication) comes from. In a study on resource partitioning in the beer market, Carroll found that consumers preferred beer that came from a family-owned, local business using handcraft and their own recipes which explains why the number of microbreweries have risen ten-fold over the past twenty years. More importantly, it shows that consumers are interested in the organizational identity behind the product – not just the product and it’s features (or it’s advertising). Along the same lines there are lots of studies that connect the reputation of a company to the buying preferences of the customers. And guess what the primary dimension of a company’s reputation people rely on the most? The authenticity of the organization, followed by transparency, integrity, trustworthiness and a few others.

Now it may be that Unilever decides for themselves what to do with their product brands and how they want to communicate to two relatively different consumer segments. However this blog, Youtube and loads of other sources have made it possible for people to understand and investigate the companies they support much better. And to make things “worse” the New Realists, Cultural Creatives, Creative Class-members, New Consumers and Inner-directeds (choose any of them, they have sort of similar preferences) all want authentic experiences delivered by authentic companies because they want to surround themselves with things/people/organizations they can believe in. Is Unilever one of them? Well, not as far as I can tell from all the comments before mine – if Unilever was driven by greater meaning than making money and had a clearer heritage we probably wouldn’t be discussing this. And the Axe/Dove commercials would both carry a value-system that might not be similar but certainly with more shared beliefs.

By the way, I like the commercials/campaigns we’re discussing. I just see how the modernist separation of the corporate brand and product brands is working to a lesser degree than it did 10-20 years ago. And that doesn’t mean that all messages from a large corporation doing business across 2-digit numbers of markets have to communicate the same everywhere. It just means that it has to come from a shared set of beliefs and hence show some degree of connection to the company that makes the stuff and delivers the message.

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