Cosmetics Firm Sorry for Topless DJ Ad, but Haredim Still Irate

Risque promotion event threatens to alienate Unilever's main consumers - the religious sector.

A recent marketing campaign for Unilever's Axe deodorant for men raised the hackles of the ultra-Orthodox community when the corporation sponsored a poolside party for teens, DJed by a topless Hungarian disc jockey flown in for the event, and attended by other partially-clad young women.

Unsurprisingly, despite Unilever's written apology to the Haredi community, its leaders remain unsatisfied. Rabbi Gabriel Papenheim, who chairs the Kashrut Committee for Badatz, told TheMarker that the matter was initially to have ended with their apology, but Badatz is now demanding that an apology also be published in the secular press. "The insult was to the secular community no less than to us," he said. Papenheim added that if Unilever refused, the Badatz leaders would convene to decide on sanctions against the company.

Unilever, whose revenues largely come from the Haredi and religious sectors, is careful to keep its brands separate, and to avoid provocative advertising. In its campaign for Dove products, for instance, the company scrupulously avoided the use of women in T-shirts to avoid offending the religious-Haredi sector. But Axe is known for its more provocative public relations style, partially adapted to the brand's campaigns overseas.

Kol Hai radio announcer Mordechai Lavi interviewed several outspoken leaders of the community in a program broadcast last Monday, who called on the Haredi sector to avoid buying Unilever products. "They need to be taught that anyone using callous, cheap and substandard advertising techniques for their products will be rejected by the community. Their apology and clarification should be done through secular media, to make sure that no others will follow suit," said one interviewee. "The Haredi community is not silent and will not be silent," another raged.

But Unilever's response is not likely to soothe ruffled feathers. "Axe is an international brand that operates according to the international company's strategic advertising policy. The brand sponsored a private event. Unilever respects all of its customers, including the Haredi sector, who have been its loyal customers for decades. We apologize to anyone who was hurt by the event, and will try to be more careful in the future," the company said.