Dove Gets into Hot Water over ‘Racist’ Ad

Beauty brand Dove found itself in hot water this last week after running what many people saw as a racist ad on Facebook.The 3-second video, which ran on Friday 6th and has since been withdrawn‚ showed a looping image of an African-American woman removing her brown shirt to reveal a white woman in a white t-shirt. The headline read, ‘ready for a Dove Shower?’

The advert caused an uproar on social media with Dove customers accusing the company of invoking the centuries-old stereotype that black is dirty and white is pure. The hashtag #BoycottDove trended on Twitter, and Dove had a plethora of international press coverage for all the wrong reasons. The controversy featured prominently on Monday’s television breakfast shows around the world, with guests debating how the ad got through the company’s approval process and whether it was indicative of a broader problem with racism in marketing.

Quick response

Dove apologised promptly and emphatically. By Saturday 7th, the ad had already been removed from Facebook and a Dove spokesperson issued a statement saying it “was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and a celebration of diversity” but they admitted they had “missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of colour and deeply regret any offence caused.” The statement went on to say that the brand was “re-evaluating our internal processes for creating and reviewing content”.

There’s enough prior evidence to suggest that Dove is sincere when it says it deeply regretted offending people. Indeed, Dove has brought some tough issues regarding women’s self-esteem to the surface.

Dove’s misstep is hardly the first time a brand has brought on a messaging crisis of this nature. Nivea’s now-infamous ‘white is purity’ ad from April 2017 comes to mind. As does Pepsi’s ad in the same month, which drew ire for trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement.

I am not a victim

Lola Ogunyemi, the black model who features in the ad, spoke at length about her positive experience of working with Dove: “I had an amazing time on set. All of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective – to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.”

She goes on to say that “while I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologise for any offence caused, they could have also defended their creative vision, and their choice to include me, an unequivocally dark-skinned black woman, as a face of their campaign.”

The importance of sense checks

When it comes to campaigns around religion, race or women’s issues, brands must tread carefully. Even if their intentions are good, they must consider the message they’re conveying, particularly if consumers only see a snapshot of the campaign, or view it out of context.

Given how many brands fumble when it comes to respectful messaging around race and diversity, it’s vital that organisations consult with employees from varying backgrounds with different experiences, and ways of thinking.

When all of those voices are able to share their thoughts, ideas and disapproval, brands are better equipped to produce messaging that hits the mark in a positive way.

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