Saturday, March 15, 2008

Battle with Sunsilk

(This picture isn't from this particular marketing campaign, but it's just as offensive!)

I guess I couldn't leave well enough alone. Yesterday I e-mailed Sunsilk/Unilever because I am so irritated with their insultingly offensive product advertisements. Below is my letter:

Dear Sunsilk,

So that there won’t be any discrepancies with what I have to say, I will state my name and background with your product first – My name is Sara Freeman, I live in Chicago, IL, I and came across your billboard(s) a little over a month ago when I was walking down Clark St. I am a twenty-two year old female college student, feminist, and an active analyst of the media coverage of women. And I am absolutely appalled by the marketing strategies you apply to your products.

Before I saw your advertisements, I used your shampoo because my mother recommended it to me. Granted, I should have investigated your company before I bought it, but your ads weren’t as bombastic then as they are now and I didn’t think twice about it. Now, I do. I threw the bottle of shampoo in the garbage as soon as I read your website.

Your ads first struck a bad nerve with me when I saw the way you use Marilyn Monroe’s image. First of all, in the inspiring icon section of your official website, you list her as being a 1960’s movie starlet.

When it comes to inspiring women, they don't come bigger than 21st-century pop legend MADONNA, 60s' movie starlet MARILYN MONROE and hip-shaking SHAKIRA.

This is entirely not true, as she died in 1962 and only technically completed three films in the 1960’s: Let’s Make Love (1960), The Misfits (1961), and, parts of Something’s got to Give (1962). She died during production of the last one. Monroe ruled the 1950’s and, much to her chagrin, was known solely for being a sex symbol. I agree that her impact is still powerful today, but not in the way you advertise it. But I’ve already written about your treatment of Monroe’s image here:

After I wrote that essay, I thought I could get forget about Sunsilk all together and just move on with my feminist life and shift my focus to other poor representations of women. Well, I couldn’t do that because, as I said, I live in Chicago and I ride the redline EL every morning – and you know what’s plastered on the outside of quite a few of the train cars? Your advertisements. Every time I see one of your ads, I fume with anger and writhe in frustration. Today, I decided to look at your website and Myspace page for the first time in over a month. I may have missed it the first time around, but you seem to have added even more content to both that makes it even more offensive. You even have 16,995 friends on Myspace, and I realize I am assuming, but I’m willing to bet that most of your “friends” on the website are young women. Am I right?

To get more to the point, my biggest complaint with your advertisements, especially the explanations for the products on your website, is the sheer smarminess and condescending tone you seem to exude in regards to why women might want to use your product – with comments like:

“Life has a nasty habit of passing us by while we’re too busy stressing about nothing – what shoes to wear, whether to text that loser, how to cope with bad hair days (weeks, months...), why our room-mates keep stealing our milk… blah, blah, blah. Whatever happened to us grabbing life by the ponytail?”

With the examples you give about “stress”, you make women’s lives seem trite with little regard or consideration given towards real-life stresses like a woman’s career, education, or lifestyle. You generalize our everyday lives with stereotypes like boyfriend troubles, clothing mishaps, and petty problems with living situations. I understand that smaller problems coexist with bigger concerns, like the ones I mentioned, but to imply that women should use your hair products because “life can’t wait” and that by using your products they will somehow attain some level of freedom they didn’t have before…does that sound right to you? Do you really think women didn’t live life before using your shampoo?

To go back to the “Life Can’t Wait” icons, can you please tell me why Shakira’s hip shaking is inspiring? Why is the fact that Madonna is “one step ahead” in the fashion world inspiring? Why did you choose “icons” like Monroe, Madonna, and Shakira for their looks instead of their lives? I find Monroe inspiring for an entirely different set of reasons other than the ones you listed. Since you don’t even know when she was popular in her lifetime, it leads me to believe that you don’t even understand why you’re picking these particular women – you just know that they have “pop” image capabilities. Is that right? I would love to hear the real reason why you chose these three ladies. Please tell me! Prove me wrong. I just want to know.

All we have to do is just stop thinking, start doing, then come back and tell everyone. BRILLIANT.

And, lastly, why on earth would you tell girls to stop thinking? If we don’t think, then we’re on the same level as animals. Animals act on instinct. And if we were to follow their example, we’d live in a world far worse than the one we live in now.

In conclusion, I ask you to please reconsider the marketing campaign of your hair care products. I agree that life can’t wait and we should make everything happen, but we should be doing it for the right reasons. Millions of women see and read your advertisements and I sincerely believe the end result of experiencing that marketing could be detrimental to their mental health.

I will use Sunsilk for the rest of my days if you choose to do so.

Thank you very much with the most sincerity,

Sara Freeman


This was their response:

Hi Sara,

Thanks so much for writing!

We are writing in response to your comments regarding our
commercial/advertisement for our product.

As a manufacturer we feel it is a major responsibility to provide our
friends and consumers with the most creative and informative means of
advertising possible. Needless to say, we are most concerned with your
comments as they suggest we may not be successfully promoting this
message on behalf of our product.

We certainly do not wish to offend anyone. You may be interested to
know that all of our commercials/advertisements are pre-tested and
various techniques are used to evaluate consumer reactions. Based on the
results of our pre-testing procedures, the presentations are chosen for
their majority appeal. However, we do appreciate that sometimes what may
be amusing or informative to one person may not be so to another.
Please let us assure you that your comments are extremely important to us
in evaluating the success of our commercials/advertisements.

Thanks for your interest!

(I don't know if I should disclose their name)


Isn't that the most annoying response in the entire world? They'll be hearing back from me by the end of the day. Grrr!

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