Armpit of America ad: Why Dove is pulling the N.J. ad

Armpit of America ad reads, "Dear New Jersey, When people call you 'The Armpit of America,' take it as a compliment. Sincerely, Dove." On Tuesday, Dove said it would remove the 'Armpit of America' ad from billboards.

Dove is learning the hard way that New Jersey residents don't appreciate being referred to as "The Armpit of America."

Unilever, the brand's parent company, says it no longer plans to run a billboard featuring the well-known dig at the Garden State. The ad was intended to promote a new line of deodorants by encouraging people to see armpits in a more positive light.

The text of the ad read, "Dear New Jersey, When people call you 'The Armpit of America,' take it as a compliment. Sincerely, Dove." It featured a smiling woman in a white tank top raising an arm behind her head to expose an armpit.

Dove is known for its unconventional ads, including a campaign that celebrates "Real Beauty" by featuring women who don't look like the typical models featured in most other ads. But the latest campaign apparently hit the wrong nerve with New Jersey residents.

The news of the billboard, which was set to run in July, sparked complaints after the New York Times published a story about it last week.

Nancy Vaznonis, a creative director at the Chicago office of Ogilvy & Mather, part of WPP, which handled the campaign, told the New York Times  that while deodorant marketing typically uses the innocuous-sounding “underarm,” the new effort uses “armpit.”

“It was a very conscious decision because people view ‘armpit’ as a dirty word,” Ms. Vaznonis said. “We wanted to change the preconception of it as dirty.”

Well, New Jersey residents apparently didn't see it the same way.

"We take feedback from our community very seriously and have decided that we will not be running this billboard advertisement," Unilever said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "We did not wish to cause any misunderstanding and apologize for any offense."

The statement said the intention was to "call attention to the fact that armpits can and should be considered beautiful." It said women should accept that as "something that is okay."

The company said it is working with its foundation to donate the billboard space to a charity.

Dove has been challenging conceptions of beauty in its advertising for nearly a decade. In 2005, for example, it ran a series of ads featuring Irene Sinclair, 96-year-old grandmother from London. The Christian Science Monitor reported:

The ads, featuring Sinclair and five other women, represent an attempt to widen the definition of beauty and help women feel good about themselves. As a Dove spokesman says, "It's a campaign to debunk beauty stereotypes. A woman does not have to be 5 feet, 10 inches and perfectly proportioned in a magazine-cover image."

In an international study of 3,200 women in 10 countries, the soapmaker found that only 13 percent are very satisfied with their body weight and shape. That's not surprising in a global society that narrowly defines beauty by the images portrayed in advertising, entertainment, and fashion.

Unilever's U.S. headquarters are based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

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Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi

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