Promoting a Cause vs. Selling a Product: Where Do We Draw the Line?

April 10th, 2008

Four years ago, Unilever’s Dove brand made headlines when it launched the Campaign for Real Beauty. Dove was praised for taking a stand against beauty companies who portrayed gorgeous air-brushed models as “real women” in their advertising campaigns. Instead of using supermodels in their ads, Dove featured regular, every day women—sometimes heavyset—wearing minimal makeup without airbrushing. Their goal? To show real beauty lies within. The ads were a huge success. They generated positive PR for the company for joining the conversation about how to better promote self-esteem in young girls and women.

The problem? While Dove was highly praised for this campaign, none of the articles or segments on the subject incorporated any of Dove’s products.
Now, Dove is launching a new Web channel for women with the intent of strengthening the link between its Campaign for Real Beauty and its line of products. Today’s Wall Street Journal reported that Dove is aiming to “create an online community for women that offers entertainment, blogs, advice and advertising.”

Will an online community created by a company trying to push its products actually catch on? Will it gain popularity? Dove is betting millions of dollars that it will. I, on the other hand, am a little more skeptical. A quick visit to the site shows a huge ad for Dove’s productsshampoo, soap and its new “Go Fresh” deodorant. Only at the very top of the site (in small typeface, might I add) do you see the links for “Connections” to blogs, editors and discussions; “Expertise” with articles, tips and expert advice; and “Features” with interactive experiences, quizzes and videos. The site focuses more on peddling products, rather than serving as a resource to women for advice, discussion and a sense of community.

What’s troubling is that Dove is not the only company scrambling to develop an online community targeting women. Unilever’s top competitor, Procter & Gamble, has multiple sites devoted to parenting, pregnancy and weight loss. One of the sites is called Everyday Solutions. Though it does include advice on home, family and wellness, it is littered with P&G product pushes. This makes me wonder, how do we trust that the information we’re receiving on these sites is unbiased? While women and men alike are increasingly turning to online communities for a sense of understanding and expertise on a variety of topics, the credibility of the advice is put into question when it’s being pushed by a company also selling a specific line of products.

The site will be rolled out worldwide over the next few months. After joining the ranks of other big-name brands creating online communities with conspicuous product pushes, it will be interesting to see if consumers draw the line between supporting a cause and buying a product.

Posted Under: Advertising
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