A few weeks ago on Oct. 7, Dove aired an advertisement that depicted a black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman, implying multiple white supremacy messages and garnering almost instant reactions of outrage. This caused for frequent consumers to drop the brand in favor of more progressive body care companies. As an African-American PR minor, I’m concerned with what exactly Dove’s public relations and marketing departments were thinking before releasing this ad.
In class, we’ve studied dozens of the PR blunders that major companies have experienced over recent years, but I’ve yet to see as disastrous an oversight as this unfold in real-time. As advertisements go through rigorous reviews and reworks, everyone’s asking how something like this could so easily slip through Dove’s many departments. The answer is fairly simple: whether it’s because of a lack of diversity when making decisions or simply a lack of attentiveness, Dove’s employees simply did not catch this glaring misunderstanding. Though, considering this is not the company’s first racial scandal, one has to wonder what is going on with Dove’s marketing teams.
Suddenly plagued with an enormous amount of backlash, Dove quickly took down the ad and gave an apology on Twitter and later, a longer apology on Facebook. Despite the apologetic statements, audiences remained skeptical as to what exactly the company was intending to convey with this message.
“Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity,” Dove said on Facebook. “In an image we posted…we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused.”
Despite popular belief, I do not think that this was an intentional rally against blacks led by Dove. The fact is that companies, even ones as large and prosperous as Dove, make genuine, ignorant mistakes when pitching and going forward with advertisements. Even Lola Ogunyemi, the black model depicted in the commercial, spoke about her initial surprise at the backlash.
I went online and discovered I had become the unwitting poster child for racist advertising. No lie,” Ogunyemi wrote in The Guardian. “I had been excited to be a part of the commercial and promote the strength and beauty of my race, so for it to be met with widespread outrage was upsetting.
Understandably, Ogunyemi said that if there was even a hint of Dove portraying her as inferior to a white woman, she would have been the first model to exit the project, but in fact, she confirmed that the Dove team treated her with the utmost respect and were excited for the ad.
She claimed that the goal of the commercial was “to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.”
Though I do not blame the company of promoting racism, I do see an obvious lack of diversity amongst the staff at Dove, otherwise blunders like this simply wouldn’t happen. With diverse staff members, offensive and oppressive messages like this would most likely have been caught early on in the production cycle thanks to the range in backgrounds, personality types and experience in marketing and PR.
A lack of attentiveness to its target audience is also to blame. Considering the amount of racial tension in the U.S., it only seems natural that audiences would react negatively to a construed message such as this. Put simply, basic research of Dove’s key publics could have saved the shame that the company has faced over the past few weeks.
“There is definitely something to be said here about how advertisers need to look beyond the surface and consider the impact their images may have,” Ogunyemi said. “It is important to examine whether your content shows that your consumer’s voice is not only heard, but also valued.”
With the amount of tension in the U.S., it was only a matter of time before yet another ad riled up audiences. Unfortunately, the victim of this hatred was Dove, but I’m more than confident that the company will recover from this disaster as it has done in the past. We can only hope that it has learned from this and will take their advertisements into more careful consideration.