Brands fuck up on a regular basis, we know that, and these days most of which are met by eye rolls, shaking heads and maybe a mini Twitter revolt. But when I first caught wind of the Dove advert (yes, the one that's created backlash across social media and making mainstream news), I couldn't help but be pissed off beyond the point of eye rolls, shaking heads and a few angry tweets, though I still indulged in all of the above. Instead of sitting alone at my desk, stewing, I took advantage of The Unedit and our determination to call out companies where necessary and cut the bullshit.
For those who haven't seen the advert, the main premise - and all you really need to know - is a black woman becomes white. And it's promoting their soap. Now I don't know about you, but the last time I checked, soap can't wash away melanin. It's just plain fucking racist.
The first thing I think a lot of us are trying to wrap our heads around is how the hell an advert like this got the approval to go live in the first place. Dove is owned by Unilever, a massive corporation that employs around 170,000 people. In June, Unilever's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed, told AdAge that the company also hire 'creative agencies - WPPs, Omnicoms, Interpublics, Publicis of the world' as well as their own in-house production team in order to create ad campaigns and other aspects affiliated to advertising. With that in mind, adverts and campaigns require approval from various senior positions across in-house teams and external agencies in order to make it public. So I guess the question here is, how the hell did an advert like this get past, or get the green light from, so many people? I find it so hard to believe that within Dove, Unilever, and the external hirings affiliated to their advertising, not one person thought, you know what, that's actually pretty racist, maybe we shouldn't. How, in 2017, is that acceptable?
Unilever's ownership of companies aside from Dove also includes Pond's White Beauty and Fair & Lovely, skin-lightening beauty brands that are heavily marketed in Asia, so to see the new advert endorsing almost similar values with regards to whitewashed beauty ideals, it's sickening. Dove, after all, is the brand that told us to love our bodies as they are, that talks about #RealBeauty (side note: I wonder how Shonda Rhimes has reacted to this?) and encourages diversity and positive body image. They're easily the largest mainstream company that puts so much effort into campaigning for these kinds of issues, so with that, personally, I'm left wondering if their hearts are even in it. It's sad to look at it from that kind of perspective, but if there are enough people in the company to allow something like this to be considered as even a starting idea in the boardroom, then I'm finding it pretty hard to see their Self Esteem Project as anything more now than something to throw money at in an attempt to keep up appearances. In my eyes, their credibility as a truly diverse brand is faltering.
I'd love to say that maybe this was all just a mistake and they won't do it again, but it's not the first time that a body wash advert from Dove has got backlash for its racist undertones. Back in 2011, the company came under fire for an advert that seemingly presented a black woman transitioning to white with the help of their body wash, not helped by the 'before' and 'after' signs behind the women. The brand immediately batted away complaints, stating that the three models used in the campaign were all considered the 'after' with the use of the product, but many were left unconvinced. From then on, the brand seemed to strengthen and tried to focus heavily on the diversity of their campaigns. But it just looks like the repeat offenders haven't learnt much after all. Fool me once, Dove, shame on you, but fool me twice., shame on... wait, yup, still you.
The beauty industry already struggle as it is when it comes to systemic racism, and soaps and body washes were responsible for multiple anti-black adverts even before Dove's time. The idea of 'dirty' black being washed away to leave 'clean' white is a long-running racist trope that has existed since the very beginnings of advertising, indicating firm roots of white supremacy in the media. The power and money behind black and brown consumers in the beauty industry is massively overlooked, and it's the likes of cosmetics brands like Fenty Beauty showcasing that people of colour buy into markets where they're catered for. With the help of their seemingly woke attitude towards diversity, representation and inclusivity, Dove quickly became one of the world's largest companies focused on standing against beauty standards and restoring positive body image amongst women. But now they've 'missed the mark' (their words, not ours), what now?
As Dove say, love the skin you're in, but apparently only if you're white.