For the past few years, one of the world's biggest advertisers has been trying to persuade us to celebrate natural beauty: Unilever very successfully peddles its Dove brand on a promise of making more women feel more beautiful everyday. But is Dove killing our planet?
Watch a new ad that pastiches Dove's own commercials and you might begin to think so. The new commercial starts off exactly like Dove's famous Onslaught film, which attacked unrealistic images of beauty. Remember the young girl staring innocently into the camera as a tsunami of images swells towards her, urging diets, cosmetic enhancements, plastic surgeries?
The new ad has the same soundtrack, the same camera angles locking eyes with a young girl. Except that, this time, the girl is frightened. The real clue that this ad is going to be different is in the title: not Dove's Onslaught, but Onslaughter. It's an ad by Greenpeace and it's out to get Dove.
Instead of Dove's images of unobtainable physical perfection, Greenpeace's girl is battered by scenes of environmental destruction, a relentless rush of razored rainforests, dead monkeys and industrial carnage.
What Greenpeace wants us to think about is palm oil, and the ecological disaster inflicted by the beauty industry's demand for it. The girl in the Greenpeace film is called Azizah and apparently 98 per cent of Indonesia's forests will have disappeared by the time she's 25: Greenpeace reckons Dove's thirst for palm oil is partly to blame.
You might wonder why Greenpeace is picking on Unilever, since palm oil is a common ingredient in a whole range of beauty and food products and also in bio-fuel production. But Dove has become a global phenomenon, one of the world's best selling skincare brands, with sales topping 2.5bn euros. It's popular, and it uses an awful lot of palm oil. Greenpeace reckons Unilever uses 1.3 million tons of the stuff every year, and not just in soaps but in margarines too.
And it doesn't help that Dove is riding a neat political bandwagon for commercial gain: its 'campaign for real beauty' has put the brand in the PC spotlight.
As well as the anti-Dove ad, Greenpeace has taken its fight to Dove's advertising and marketing agencies. You might have seen the pictures last week of a protester in an Orangutan costume making his point outside Unilever's London headquarters. Dove's advertising agency, Ogilvy, and its PR companies, Jackie Cooper and Lexis, are also being targeted. A Greenpeace spokesman said last week that "we are trying to persuade Unilever's marketing agencies that they are doing Unilever's dirty work for it by greenwashing its brands".
Mention greenwashing and agencies will duck: they are all desperately trying to improve their green credentials and clean up their track records on environmental issues. For example, one of the country's biggest advertisers, the COI, which handles government advertising, is even requiring all its agencies to go green.
Still, it's unlikely that Dove's agencies will be much worried by Greenpeace's protests. Unilever is a highly prized client, and the weight of its marketing cache is much greater than any weight of concern over accusations of greenwashing.
Meanwhile, Unilever has prepared a nice document detailing its environmental policy on palm oil. It says it's working to increase the yields on existing plantations and working hard to promote sustainable agriculture.
What's for certain is that the sort of attack Greenpeace is making on Unilever and its agencies will have a positive effect, though not necessarily the one Greenpeace intends. Unilever will probably now seek the counsel of its agencies about how to promote its sustainability project more forcibly. There may be new advertising around the issue. That's good for adland.
Will it change Unilever's approach to palm oil farming? Well, that's up to us. As the new Greenpeace ad says: "Talk to Dove before it's too late."
If the 20th Century was the age of youth, the 21st century will most definitely be the age of...well, age. Madonna, Prince, Sharon Stone are all about to become icons for a new marketing demographic: the cool 50-pluses. And marketers will ignore them at their peril.
Think of advertising to "the over-50s" and you probably think about stair lifts, baths you can walk into, electric furry slippers rather than luxury travel, designer wardrobes, lubricated sex toys, sports cars.
Advertisers and agencies don't much like putting older people in ads (unless it's to poke fun at them). But here are a few stats: over 80 per cent of financial wealth in the UK is held by the over-50s. While the rest of us are credit-crunching, the over-50s have fewer mortgages and an average wealth of over £80,000; more than 40 per cent of consumer spending is done by the over-50s. And yet only 2 per cent of people working on advertising are over 50.
Of course, "the over 50s" is really a rather ridiculous concept. 50-somethings, 60-somethings, 70-somethings, 80-somethings are all distinct demographics with different lifestyles and different incomes. It's just that they all tend to get lumped together by most advertisers.
Therein lies the opportunity, though. Robert Campbell, a founder of one of the UK's most successful agencies – Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe (now merged with Y&R) – is over 50 and is launching an agency he hopes will turn this opportunity into big money. Campbell's agency will be called tgi50 (thank God I'm 50) and will officially launch on 16th August, which is of course Madonna's 50th birthday.
The trouble is that many big brands don't want to be seen advertising to "oldies" in case it puts off younger consumers (look what happened to Levi's street cred when dads and Jeremy Clarkson started wearing them). And lots of "oldies" quite like to buy into products that sell themselves on an image of youth and energy; even older consumers don't much like seeing people like them in ads.
So Saga has had the over-50s niche to itself, and the stigma has persisted. But all that should be starting to change now. The rise of the 50-something role model is creating a completely new marketing dynamic: contemporary brands targeting cool, mature (and wealthy) consumers.
The rise of the web will help, because brands can speak directly to the over 50s without their younger consumers even knowing about it. Special offers, sampling, advertising can all be done discreetly and can be highly personalized.
Campbell hopes that rather than dreading the arrival of your first Saga mailing, mature consumers will now look forward to taking advantage of being wooed by covetable brands once they turn 50. After all, if it's good enough for Madonna...
Claire Beale is editor of CampaignReuse content