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This week, an observant Los Angeles Times reporter, Alana Semuels, called me to discuss an announcement by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, demanding that Unilever pull its ads for Axe, citing the company’s hypocrisy and degradation of women.

At issue is the way Unilever’s Dove brand attacks advertising that promotes artificial images of women – precisely the kind of imagery seen in advertising for Axe.

According to CCFC’s director and co-founder, Dr. Susan Linn, “Even as Unilever basks in praise for its Dove Real Beauty campaign, they are profiting from Axe marketing that blatantly objectifies and degrades young women.”

This raises the question of whether its wise for a large company like Unilever, with a varied portfolio of brands, to promote conflicting points of view. After all, the Dove campaign is a positive step, isn’t it?

Many of you know I sounded out on this subject last year. This week, in addition my quote in the LA Times article, I posted this comment on the Advertising Age blog discussing Bob Garfield’s similar article:

It’s nice to see positive imagery in advertising, but it’s a lot nicer when it’s authentic, not just a cynical corporate trick to sell soap. Dove is a product and products don’t have beliefs or values. Companies have values, so why don’t we ask Unilever what they think?

Unilever, if you’re listening, what’s it going to be? Treat women like real people, or sex slaves? Pick one.

Bob Garfield probably put it better when he said:

“A worthy cause, a brilliant strategy, a flawless video. It all amounts to something very close to perfection. So, yes, absolutely, four stars…Damn, if it just weren’t for the nagging hypocrisy of it all.”

Do you have an opinion about this? Please comment.

LA Times Article

Advertising Age Article



A few weeks ago, I gave students an assignment to visit The Home Depot store and explore the current customer experience. Determine whether the chain should launch a major initiative in response to increasing consumer interest in style and aesthetics.

An alert Creative Brand Management student, Liz Streibich, noted this article on MarketWatch, announcing The Home Depot’s “softer, more colorful” test stores. Student responses measured up well to the actual plan.


My class has been curious about what I’ve been up to in my work for the Radio industry. So after it became public with a launch at the NAB Radio Show in Charlotte, I went through a summary of the research findings and brand strategy. To make sure this sharing goes both ways, my Creative Brand Management students will be developing some of their own ideas about how to get people more excited about Radio. Since we discussed the value of Position Testing, I’ve added material about the approach to the Resources section of this blog.

Up until now, I’ve been maintaining different sites for three different courses I teach at VCU Adcenter. But it seems to me there’s value in making all of these resources available to everyone I teach, and anyone else who happens across this blog. So, whether you are a student or not, I hope you find some interesting information about building brands, exploring cultures and the intersection between the two.

Ann Coulter has made herself the Paris Hilton of politics: pretty on the outside – ugly on the inside. So it shouldn’t be surprising that she would stir up more controversy by suggesting that Jews need to be “perfected”.

At the VCU Adcenter, we’ve been working on an assignment for the First Freedom Center, with the purpose of increasing religious dialogue to battle religious intolerance.

Communications Strategist, Nien Liu, asked me a provocative question, “What does the First Freedom Center think – do they consider this a crisis?”

Virtually every study on the topic suggests that when people feel comfortable discussing religion, intolerance of other faiths is reduced. Nien’s question was a good one. Here was an example of religion being discussed in a way that demonstrated ignorance and intolerance. Is this a good thing? I won’t speak for the First Freedom Center, but here are my own views:

First of all, this is unfortunate example of how ignorance leads to intolerance. The less you know about religious beliefs other than you’re own, the more likely you are to be intolerant. Coulter demonstrates not only ignorance of other religions, but also ignorance of her own.

Second, even intolerant discussions of religion can promote positive dialogue. When I did a blog search on Coulter’s remarks, I found over 2,500 blog entries on the subject. (General Google entries, which can include duplication, were over 400,000) Many of these were thoughtful and provocative, and many Christian commentators quoted scripture to counter Coulter’s point-of-view.

So to answer Nien’s question as to whether Coulter’s words created a crisis, I would say no. The powerful thing about free speech is that voices of hatred are almost always drowned out by voices of reason. It just takes a little time.

Links: Coulter’s Comments


Last night our Cultural Exploration team made presentations of comprehensive branding campaigns aimed at breaking the taboo of talking about religious subjects. The client is the Council for America’s First Freedom, an organization committed to protecting and expanding religious freedom. They take their work very seriously, as they should. The majority of bloody conflicts are caused by religious intolerance, and ignorance about other religions is a primary cause of intolerance.

If people talked more openly about their religious beliefs, or lack of them, the world would be a more respectful, peaceful place.

So why don’t we talk about religion? That was the first question 44 VCU Adcenter students had to explore. The answers are complex and varied: People are often ignorant or unsure about their own religion and don’t feel as though they’re in a position to discuss their beliefs. The people who do talk about religion are often seen as preachy or even fanatical. People are afraid that asking questions about the religious practices of others will be offensive. People are fearful that if they listen, they may be signaling a lack of faith.

Religion is a heavy topic; so most folks will talk about almost any aspect of their lives before they’ll talk about their beliefs.

Many of the presentations sought to lighten up the dialogue and provide tools to make it easier to enter into a conversation on religious subjects. Were they making light of a topic that is seen as too heavy to talk about? I hope so.