March 4 (Bloomberg) -- A proposed Unilever billboard urging New Jersey to embrace its reputation as the “armpit of America” drew outcry from the state’s residents, prompting the company to abandon the idea.
As part of an ad campaign for Dove underarm products, the company had planned to put up a billboard in July saying, “Dear New Jersey, when people call you ‘the Armpit of America,’ take it as a compliment. Sincerely, Dove.”
After a preview of the billboard appeared in the New York Times last week, irate Garden State residents went on Facebook and Twitter criticizing the ad. Unilever, the world’s largest consumer-products maker after Procter & Gamble Co., responded by saying the company would not move forward with it.
“Our intent with the ‘Dear New Jersey’ ad was to call attention to the fact that armpits can and should be considered beautiful and ask women everywhere to accept this as something that is okay,” Matthew McCarthy, the senior marketing director of antiperspirants and deodorants at London- and Rotterdam-based Unilever, said in an e-mailed statement. “We did not wish to cause any misunderstanding or offense.”
New Jersey has received national attention this year, in both a positive and negative light. It played host to last month’s Super Bowl and was mired in a scandal over whether Governor Chris Christie’s staff intentionally shut down lanes to the George Washington Bridge to hurt a political foe. The state has long lived in the shadow of New York City, and its urban areas and industrial zones have contributed to its gritty reputation.
Unilever hadn’t yet planned where in the state it would locate the billboard before scrapping the idea, the company said. The controversy has put Unilever on the defensive on social-media sites, where it’s apologizing to customers. Visitors to Dove’s Facebook page have called the billboard offensive, rude and insulting -- with some demanding a boycott.
“We take feedback from our community very seriously,” McCarthy said.
In its defense, Unilever knows about the tribulations of being a Garden State resident: The company’s U.S. headquarters is in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
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