If it was an accident, it was tragic.
If it was intentional, it was one of the most cynical marketing moves ever.
Dove hit social media with an ad over the weekend that showed a black woman using their product and then taking off her chocolate colored shirt to reveal a white woman with a lighter colored shirt. The message was “Dove soap gets you clean.” Of course the manner they delivered the message was using a “dirty” black woman as the before image and a “cleaner” white woman as the after model. It is hard to say if it was truly racist in its intent since the white woman took off her shirt revealing a slightly darker skinned woman. The ad was clumsy, at best.
Some people on social media saw it as a very racist way of delivering the message. Others didn’t find the racism so obvious.
Normally, I am willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, this is not a normal situation.
This is the same company that faced backlash to a 2011 campaign using a black, brown and white woman as before, during, and after models of cleanliness. It’s been six years since they faced self-inflicted race-based controversy. That makes this ad feel less accidental.
Beyond Dove, the soap industry as a whole has long used the marketing ploy of washing black skin to make it white. The soap is so good, you don’t have to be black anymore. The racist message was always clear.
People are left to wonder if Dove is guilty of having a marketing team that is so racially tone deaf that it has no memory of a 2011 outcry and the history of ads in the industry. The other option is less palatable. I would rather believe you are ignorant and meant no harm than shrewd and sitting in a room full of executives who spout tired tomes like “there is no bad publicity.”
Honestly, when was the last time you cared about a Dove ad? Was it 2011?
This is the first time I have ever written about one. So either Dove marketing executives are ignorant or cynical. I’m not sure that either falls on a good spot on the spectrum.
Dove admitted that this ad missed the mark. They said it “"did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened... we apologize deeply and sincerely for the offense that it has caused."
It was such a brief clip that it is hard to believe someone at Dove was letting out pent up racist beliefs. However, in that company and in that industry – both of which have struggled with racial insensitivity in marketing – there is no way this ad was properly vetted before it hit social media channels.
The ad succeeded in getting people to talk about Dove again, but I’m not sure a debate about whether you ascribe to abhorrent beliefs or are merely incompetent is a great path to future success.