Most recent race-related news coverage has focused on the National Football League — a debate that was reignited once again this weekend when Vice President Mike Pence staged his own walk-out at an Indianapolis Colts game.
But neither the Trump administration nor the NFL have a monopoly on racially-charged PR nightmares. Over the past week, a new social media campaign for Dove body wash has put the beauty and skincare company at the center of its own racial controversy.
It all started on Friday, when a three-second GIF was posted on Dove’s company Facebook page.
“Introduced with the line ‘Ready for a Dove Shower?’ it shows a looping image of a black woman removing a dark brown t-shirt to reveal a white woman,” described CNNMoney.
The ad elicited immediate backlash, prompting Dove to remove it from Facebook on Saturday and issue a statement of “regret”:
“Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity. In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused. The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future.”
But many consumers found Dove’s apology inadequate, “peppering the company [on social media] with comments and rhetorical questions, none of them good,” explained The Washington Post.
The Post continued, “Was Dove saying that inside every black woman is a smiling redheaded white woman? Was Dove invoking the centuries-old stereotype that black is dirty and white is pure? Or that black skin can or should be cleansed away?”
Regarding the last point, Reuters reported that the Dove ad “reminded some social media users of racist soap adverts from the 19th century or early 20th century that showed black people scrubbing their skin to become white.”
Boipelo Ntlatleng tweeted three of those vintage ads plus an image collage of the Dove ad in question with the caption: “#Dove the problem is you and not our melanin. #boycottdove #boycottunilever.”
— Boipelo Ntlatleng (@Groundednut101) October 9, 2017
Ntlatleng was certainly not the only one calling for a boycott of Dove. As Reuters explained, “On Twitter, posts including the hashtag #BoycottDove, which started over the weekend among U.S. users, were appearing in multiple European languages.”
To Be Fair…
Other Twitter users did point out that the full Dove ad was five seconds, not three, and included the white woman removing her t-shirt to reveal a third woman, who was described as Asian by some, “brown” by others.
For example, Hasdi Bravo tweeted the entire five-second GIF, writing, “To be fair, there are 3 women in the ad: BLACK woman switches to WHITE then to BROWN. Should they reverse the order?”
To be fair, there are 3 women in the ad: BLACK woman switches to WHITE then to BROWN. Should they reverse the order?🤔pic.twitter.com/imxCeVPHmR
— Hasdi Bravo 📎 (@HasdiBravo) October 8, 2017
Seeing the full ad does put the beauty brand’s Monday statement to Reuters into greater context: “The short video was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong.”
Dove’s Track Record
This discussion would be incomplete without examining Dove’s track record in regard to diversity.
“For its part, Dove, which is owned by Unilever (UL), has for more than a decade tried to take a socially conscious stance on beauty,” reported CNNMoney.
“Its ads have frequently used models of various body weights, ages and races. The campaigns ‘My Beauty My Say,’ ‘Real Beauty,’ and ‘#BeautyBias’ have been applauded for their depictions of diversity and promotion of self-confidence.”
In addition, just last May, Dove engaged Shonda Rhimes, an African American producer and screenwriter, to “make mini films celebrating that theme.” Rhimes is responsible for creating “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” – two popular shows that feature women of color as the lead character.
And yet, this is not the first time that Dove has stirred up racial controversy.
“In 2011, an ad for one line of Dove body washes was accused of racism for lining up three women from lightest to darkest skin tone,” explained CNNMoney. “They appeared below the words “before” and “after,” which were meant to indicate skin dryness.”
Twitter users have also called out Dove’s Summer Glow Nourishing Lotion, which is labeled “For Normal to Dark Skin,” prompting the question: Is dark skin not normal?
— Rod Williams (@BeatBullyMuzik) October 9, 2017
What do you think of Dove’s ad? And, whether or not you found it to be problematic, what lessons do you think Dove and other companies can learn from this PR nightmare?