After decades of conglomerate funded brand adverts portraying women as mainly domesticated homemakers and men the breadwinners - roles that are no longer universally accepted - Unilever has made a public stand with the declaration of intent that it will stamp out gender stereotypes from its advertising. We take a look at some of its brands' previous campaigns which would have fallen foul of this new approach.
Axe has been criticized a number of times over the years for its sexist advertising. For example, in a 2013 ad for its Black Chill body spray, the brand stated that “the world is facing one of the biggest crises in the history of history: girls are getting hotter and hotter,” causing guys to “lose their cool.” At the time, founder of feminist blog The F Bomb Julie Zeilinger wrote on the Huffington Post that the video “isn’t just bad for women” but “also insults and undermines men.”
A serial offender when it comes to gender stereotypes Persil has been playing the ‘mum’ card since the 1950s. A firm family favourite Persil’s original slogan ‘Persil washes whiter’ targeted mums with posters proclaiming ‘Someone’s mum doesn’t know…’ and showed two little girls in dresses, one of which is significantly cleaner. Establishing affinity with mums the brand continued to focus on the role mums play in raising their children suggesting the perfect mother uses Persil. In 1998, Persil ran an ad featuring a hapless young man at the airport getting his bag checked, as the security guard fumbles around in his perfectly washed and pressed luggage he a suspicious bag of white powder leaving the boy to protest its only washing up powder because – of course – his mum packed it.
While Dove’s ongoing Campaign for Real Beauty initiative has been widely celebrated for helping women overcome body image issues, it has also been criticized in some circles for prioritising beauty above all else when it comes to how a woman views herself. When the brand released its Real Beauty Sketches video, which featured an FBI-trained forensic artist drawing pictures of women based off of their own descriptions and those of a stranger’s, Ann Friedman wrote in New York Magazine that the these kind of ads “still uphold the notion that, when it comes to evaluating ourselves and other women, beauty is paramount.”
Magnum ice-cream usually turns to suggestive imagery for its ads, more often than not featuring attractive women. Previously running under the tagline ‘For pleasure seekers’ brand ambassadors have included actresses Rachel Bilson and Eva Longoria and, most recently supermodel Kendall Jenner (who fronts a campaign entitled #ReleaseTheBeast), Magnum adverts are traditionally loaded with sexual connotations, slow motion shots and ‘food porn’ references.
Degree is another Unilever brand that has been accused of utilising gender stereotypes in its advertising efforts over the years. While the brand has made strides in this space as of late, just a few years ago the brand was criticised by Jezebel for its ‘Dare to Feel’ campaign, which it said is “based around the idea that it’s not necessarily the macho risk-taking of their male counterparts (or, you know, natural bodily functions) that causes women to sweat, but their emotions that turn them into big sweaty piles of stank.”
In 2013, Unilever’s Pot Noodle banned got its wrists slapped by the ASA for an advert that compared a scantily clad woman to a spicy Pot Noodle. Branded ‘crass and degrading,’ the ‘Hot Off’ advert featured on Pot Noodle’s Facebook page and showed a woman in revealing red underwear alongside a Piri Piri Pot Noodle with a caption asking ‘Which one gets you hotter?’ After receiving 18 complaints the ASA banned the ‘Peel the top off a hottie’ push claiming they were offensive, sexist and degrading to women.