Update: 7-7-10 Added mashup video at the end Media transparency is more than a buzz word these days, as consumers connect the dots of who’s behind what, where money’s funneling from, and how we’re all being yanked around.
Industry mavericks are giving consumers a bit of a nudge to see that elephant in the living room, but it’s NOT just me…Honest.
Meet indie filmmaker Rye Clifton…The PSFK blog tipped me off to this “Message From Unilever video” prompting a fist pumping, “YES!” when seeing the Dove/Axe mashup revealing the polarity of two successful campaigns at blatantly cross purposes, raking in the kudos and cash under the Unilever brand.
Mind you, the blogosphere has been carping about the Unilever disconnect for ages, including me. From Dove’s Onslaught, to the skin lightening campaign heavily marketed to my fellow WLW delegates (which I wrote about here, and this blogger addressed in depth here, “Fair Though Hardly Lovely”) it’s clear Dove Love has been tainted a bit by some nefarious bedfellows…
CCFC has an advocacy arm swinging full tilt at the absurdity of the Unilever contradiction and insightful blogs like The Situationist and Healthbolt have covered the entire body image commentary expansively…
Yep, the backlash has begun, we’re gonna have some fun now!
That said, as the old cliché goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so thanks to filmmaker Rye Clifton for paying it forward on film…the media language of youth.
Rye strikes me as somewhat akin to ‘The Accidental Activist’…filming more as a ‘whoa, lookie here what I found’ rather than as part of a passionista posse, and frankly, that’s part of the charm.
The film cleverly nails the Unilever contradiction with an agency-savvy eye, tongue in cheek, and an ethical question mark floating above our industry’s fuzzy heads…
It’s like lobbing a ‘gotcha’ into the industry court to see who returns the serve…
Why are we so enthused about it here at Shaping Youth?
Well, we’ve found that films like this are one of our MOST effective counter-marketing tools with kids…
“Lift the veil, reveal the tactics, show the truth, ignite a firestorm.”
It helps kids SEE what they’re buying into when they’re buying…(much like the Truth campaign’s anti-smoking videos)
Plus…this one is a freebie find we don’t have to produce ourselves!
User-generated content like this helps build critical thinking skills and awareness, and can turn into viral videos that strike ‘aha’ moments, energizing kids to spoof their own pop culture beliefs and branded antics multi-fold.
Rye’s piece also serves as a brilliant ‘call to action’ for our own Shaping Youth teen advisors to literally “flip and blip” their own creative messages with user-generated content.
The Flip video cam (or others like it) is a cheap, easy, plug-n-play ways for kids to quickly upload content to blipTV for immediate gratification…(thus the ‘flip & blip’ UGC we’re experimenting with in schools to snag those ‘Voices of Youth’ in ‘npr’ StoryCorps style)
Anyway, nice work, Rye, we’re hoping for an encore.
I’ve already pitched the concept, “How about doing an Onslaught knock-off showing how BOYS are being hammered with equal fervor?”
So we’ll see what gels…someone out there is bound to take the bait, eh?
Without futher ado, here are Rye’s answers to a dozen questions I posed. Enjoy, comment, voice your views!
Shaping Youth: What was your purpose/objective in your re-edit of the Dove/Axe mashup? (e.g. awareness, advocacy, irony, exposure)
Rye Clifton: First, I just want it to be clear that this video is something I did on my own… on my own time… and while I may be in the communications field, this is not endorsed by my employer or have anything to do with my day job.
This all came out of a conversation with one of my colleagues, Chris Wojda. He happened to mention reading an article in the LA Times, and I was floored. Not because I was offended by one campaign over the other, but both campaigns have received sooo much recognition…
AXE has taken home the top advertising strategy award for the past two years, and now Old Spice and TAG body spray are trying to use their same ‘tactics’ because their advertising is so effective.
Dove, on the other hand, has been winning creative awards and gaining recognition for ‘Real Beauty,’ a campaign that has turned the beauty industry on its head by shunning ads that feature stereotypical models.
I was shocked by the contradiction and couldn’t wait to tell someone. I’ve found the easiest way to make a point is a quick little video… I just didn’t realize how easy it would be to make… The footage really wrote itself.
Shaping Youth: Is there a “call to action” in play? (e.g. do you want viewers to ‘Ax the Axe’ a la CCFC’s advocacy campaign or is it more subtle in terms of hinting at a large multinational code of ethics and awareness, &/or holding our industry accountable by the threat of UGC media backlash from within our own circles?)
Rye Clifton: I think it is important for a company to really think about what they stand for. As a brand, you can’t be all things to all people. Charles Frith was one of the first people to write about the video, and brought up some international contradictions within Dove that I had never realized. This is when I realized the video stuck a chord.
Shaping Youth: What ethical guidelines do you feel advertisers, media/marketing should adhere to, if any?
Rye Clifton: Before advertisers/media/marketing is ever involved, a brand or a corporation needs honesty and accountability. We are more connected than ever, and if you try to put one over on your customers, people will react.
Shaping Youth: Do you feel corporate profiteering will always dominate social responsibility in our industry?
Rye Clifton: Companies are in business to make money. During the holidays a few years ago everyone stopped saying, “Christmas” because it wasn’t a universal message. There was a backlash and now we’re back to Christmas. Santa is back in business and everyone is happy.
S.Y. Editorial Comment: Call me the Grinch, I’m far from happy with our industry’s lack of ethics, but that point is definitely true on the pendulum swings of PC-ness.
Shaping Youth: Can you cite other examples of ‘disconnects’ in terms of multinational firms speaking out of both sides of their mouth?
Rye Clifton: Many successful multinational firms have many brands and many products that work for different people in different ways. The reason that the Dove/Axe contradiction is so powerful is that both campaigns are successful in their own right, AND the Dove campaign is written to cause a reaction…Unfortunately for Unilever, they also own some of the brands breaking Dove’s new ‘rules’ for advertising.
Shaping Youth: Do you feel Unilever has control over their brand umbrella? Why or why not?
Rye Clifton: No, but I don’t think they are looking to do that… but maybe they should start. Their many brands are strong, and stand on their own. Consumers are smarter and more informed than ever. We are connecting dots that were never meant to be connected. Going forward, I think brands should question what they are doing, and make sure they are comfortable with their actions.
It reminds me a bit of the dog food contamination scare a few months ago. All of a sudden the general public knew that one company owned the majority of all the dog food brands. Why would I now pay extra for the same ingredients as in their cheaper brands?
Shaping Youth: Do you feel this same ‘Onslaught’ of objectification and sexualization is coming at boys? Why or why not?
Rye Clifton: I really wish people would relax. America is obese. We also have a huge problem with eating disorders. Lets be normal, act normal… but not preach normal.
S.Y. Editorial Comment: Relax? Not easy when kids are showing up with appearance-based disorders directly tied to industry’s cultural cues…depression, self-worth, dieting, body building, teen plastic surgery. This synopsis on exposure to mass media, body shape concerns, etc. with close to 1500 teens in Australia shows direct ties to the TYPE of media consumption (e.g. music videos and prime time ‘soaps’) as well as the WAY it’s being ingested (mindless escapism vs. purposeful viewing) even over the quantity/number of hours. Ultimately, that drives the point home, “it’s the content, stupid.”
Shaping Youth: Do you feel boys are getting peer pressure to ‘get the babe’? If so, what campaigns do you feel reflect this the most? (besides Axe) If not, why is it so lopsided/unidirectional?
Rye Clifton: Not really. I remember being on the playground as a little kid. There have always been the popular kids, the geeks, the jocks, the musicians, the kids in theater, the fat kids… I’ve actually been part of all of those groups at one point of growing up. There are always pressures to fit in, and that is no different today.
S.Y. Editorial Comment: I need to meet Rye and show off our S.Y. data nuggets of the impact on kids…Even though we’re more on the same page than not from an ethical perspective, I’ve repeatedly seen this as a paramount obstacle to overcome with industry colleagues who claim ’twas ever thus.’ The downplay is profoundly misguided.
Yes, cliques and beauty ideals may have been present, but no, today’s 24/7 surround sound of objectification, sexism, perfectionism and direct marketing of kids’ insecurities for profit are not ‘the same’ as yesteryear. Not even close. A reprehensible ‘anything goes’ mentality with no moral compass regarding who’s being hurt and how is a ‘profit over public health’ issue that’s never mined childhoods with such exacting precision. Ever.
Shaping Youth: What demographics do you feel this is impacting the most in terms of toxicity?
Rye Clifton: I’m not sure what you mean by toxicity?
Shaping Youth: Do you feel kids are particularly harmed by this messaging, or is it universal (adults/teens/plethora of icons in media)
Rye Clifton: The thing that has people talking is the contradiction in the messaging. Dove has a relevant message for their target, as does AXE. Both have seen sales increases. Both brands are doing well. The question has become, “Where does Unilever stand?”
S.Y. Editorial Comment: Again, to me, (and to most parents) the higher level question is an ethical one, not ‘where does Unilever stand in brand contradiction’ but more, ‘can we appeal to marketer’s humanity to create a Socratic oath to ‘do no harm?’ Self-rein sure ain’t workin’!
Shaping Youth: Would you be interested in doing a knock-off/Onslaught video edit of male sexualization/objectification? If so why? If not, why not?
Rye Clifton: Sure. I’m up for anything that can cause people to think… Got any ideas?
Shaping Youth: Is the Martin Agency aware of your YouTube circulation? Do they support it? (e.g. Are they ‘onboard the cause’ or are you operating independently without regard to your agency affiliation?)
Rye Clifton: I am 100% independent on this issue.
Shaping Youth: Baker’s dozen bonus question: How can we (as media professionals) best ‘change the system’ from within? Is ‘ethics in advertising’ destined to be an oxymoronic phrase? Why/why not?
Rye Clifton: Bakers dozen… Is that some sort of a fat joke?
If we look deep enough into any issue, we can find something to be offended by. In some ways I feel I may have done this with Dove.
There is great merit in what they are doing, yet they are speaking out of both sides of their mouth… Skin-whitening creams and AXE/LYNX here and Europe.
I think marketers will always try to find the most relevant ways to connect with their audience. Going into the future, I think we’ll be a lot more careful to insure that we fully believe and back everything we are saying.