Recently, the consumer protection unit of the Orange County (CA) District Attorney’s Office filed suit against Unilever, parent company of AXE, accusing the company of fudging the packaging of its male grooming products. According to a report out of The Orange County Register, prosecutors have accused the company of using “false bottoms, false sidewalls, false lids or false coverings” which “serve no legitimate purpose and mislead consumers as to the amount of product contained in the containers.” The report is silent on whether prosecutors obtained the desired AXE effect when “testing” out the company’s body sprays.
Interestingly, prosecutors were quick to work out a tentative deal with Unilever, submitting a proposed settlement to the court on the day suit was filed. Pending court approval, Unilever has agreed to cease using the “misleading” packaging and pay $750,000 in civil penalties to Orange County, plus $24,000 to cover the costs of the DA investigation. In addition, Unilever will buy Sunday inserts with $3 coupons in several dozen California newspapers. In other words, the County gets three quarters of a million dollars. The “deceived” consumer gets the opportunity to buy another AXE product at a $3 discount. So, it sounds like “everyone”, i.e. Orange County, comes out winners.
Aside from the financial windfall for Orange County, we here at Abnormal Use are curious as to the point of this lawsuit. There is nothing contained in the report indicating that Unilever misled consumers as to the actually quantity of the product contained in the package. Rather, this case only suggests that the product packaging was essentially larger than necessary and, thus, deceived consumers. Apparently, the DA has never purchased a bag of potato chips. Right or wrong, we are curious as to whether the AXE packaging deviated in any respect from common practice in the industry. We are also curious as to the size differential, if any, between the packaging of AXE and a competitor’s product of the same stated quantity. For AXE’s competitor’s sake, we hope those AXE packages were substantially larger. If not, we know where the DA will be banking its payroll for the next quarter.