n African Journal of Rhetoric - An axe to grind : risky rhetoric in Unilever brand marketing

Volume 2, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1998-2054


Young people in South Africa face an uncertain future that is unlikely to be "AIDS-free" in their lifetime. HIV and unhealthy gender relations as a key driver of the South African epidemic threaten productivity, supply chains, infrastructure and consumer bases, yet the immense human suffering and depletion caused by AIDS is perpetuated by commercial and broader economic realities. The broader research for this paper envisages ethical business practice that balances profits and caring for sustainability and relevance, focusing on the notion of entrepreneurial authenticity in an AIDS-afflicted society. It examines Unilever SA's advertising campaign for Axe male deodorant to illustrate how certain forms of brand messaging reproduce harmful constructs of gender roles and sexual relationship. It challenges the assertion that there is no proven link between advertising and the perpetuation of sexual exploitation, risky sex and vulnerability to HIV. It also proposes broadening the definition of "corporate social responsibility" (CSR), based on a deep understanding of the drivers and impacts of HIV, with reference to the King II Report (2002), which supports focus not only on corporate profits, productivity and morale, but also on contributing to structural and cultural transformation within companies and wider society.

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