Dear Dove, Sorry Isn't Good Enough. We Need You and Other Brands to Be Better

What’s that saying? Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice and I’ll join the boycott?

Ishani Nath

Dove ad: a photo of Dove's logo on a blue and green background with white raysDear Dove,

I get that your whole thing is “real beauty,” but, as the social media masses recently pointed out, your ad depicting a Black woman literally turning into a white woman with the help of Dove body wash is just all kinds of wrong.

When the ad was first posted on your U.S. Facebook page, people were quick to point out that no amount of scrubbing can turn a Black woman into a white woman into an Asian woman—oh, and the fact that equivocating beauty and cleanliness with whiteness is a tale as old as racism and we are not here for it.

To your credit, you responded swiftly by removing the ad and halting the rollout of other related content (which, TBH, I’m v. curious about). You tweeted an apology on Oct. 7 and then a fuller statement three days later, saying that, “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. It did not represent diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs.”

One of the non-white models depicted in the controversial ad even came to your defence saying that viewers were reacting to a portion of the ad footage that was cut out of context.

“I can see how the snapshots that are circulating have been misinterpreted, considering the fact that Dove has faced a backlash in the past for the exact same issue,” Lola Ogunyemi, the Black model in the video ad told The Guardian. “There is a lack of trust here, and I feel the public was justified in their initial outrage. Having said that, I can also see that a lot has been left out. The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion.”

But here’s the thing, it’s not like some editor was cutting this commercial in a home studio and then hit publish without any sort of approval from higher ups. Dove isn’t a cute, homemade soap brand sold on Etsy. It’s a massive multinational company, so you best believe that the way this three-second video was cut is still the result of a series of misguided and tone deaf decisions. This wasn’t an accident. No one slipped and hit “post” before the final version was ready. The fact that this ad made it to the stage where it was being shared on your official U.S. page—which has more followers than the entire population of Australia—is unacceptable and yet more evidence that the wrong people are still calling the shots in advertising. (*AHEM* I’m looking at you Pepsi, but, TBH, I’m straight-up glaring at you Unilver because you own both of these brands.)

I get that you’re real sorry and everything, but this isn’t the first time this has happened. Your Dove VisibleCare ad put a Black woman in front of the janky “before” picture and a white woman in the aspirational “after” picture. Some of your messaging is a little more subtle, like saying a product is appropriate for “normal to dark skin.” I’m, sorry I wasn’t aware that my non-white skin was such an abnormality. Sounds like I should really get this melanin checked out by my doc.

How does that saying go? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and I’ll join the boycott? Yeah, that sounds right. Since the ad was first posted, online users have been calling for others to #BoycottDove and #BoycottUnilever.

According to Business Insider, both Unilever and Dove have positioned themselves as champions of diversity in the advertising industry. Which is cool and all, but let’s not forget, in addition to Pepsi and Dove, Unilever owns Fair & Lovely, which they proudly describe on their site as the number one fairness cream in India. That’s basically boasting that you’re absolutely the best at making brown people feel terrible about their real skin colour and then selling them an unnecessary product to literally make them look whiter.

“Diversity” is not just including non-white people in your ads so you can tap into that lucrative POC market. Representing “the diversity of real beauty” means actually being sensitive and in-tune with different types of viewers and communities and crafting messaging that challenges standards that idealize only one type of beauty. Saying that you care about us non-white folk and wanting us to feel real beautiful is nice and all, but it is companies like you that perpetuated our insecurities in the first place. Stop saying sorry after the fact and start living up to the campaign we were promised: one that doesn’t manipulate us into buying your products, but one that actually makes a difference for the women who have consistently been told by advertisers that they are lesser than.

In your most recent statement, you said that you are, “re-evaluating our internal processes for creating and approving content to prevent us making this type of mistake in the future.” Good. Because trust, we’ll be watching.

Related:

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