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Dove clip exemplifies need for racial awareness in the industry

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Dove clip exemplifies need for racial awareness in the industry

A screen grab of the recent Dove advertisement.

A screen grab of the recent Dove advertisement.

Dove

A screen grab of the recent Dove advertisement.

Dove

Dove

A screen grab of the recent Dove advertisement.

by Sydney Sweeney, Senior Staff Writer

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Social media was buzzing at the start of last week in news of yet another obviously racist advertisement issued on behalf of a negligent consumer goods company. This time, the red-handed culprit was a brand familiar to anyone who’s ever stepped inside a shower or bathtub — popular personal care brand Dove.

The clip that launched the internet into a frenzy appeared on Facebook as a three-second GIF featuring three fresh-faced ladies in nude-colored shirts. Each woman removed her top, magically transforming into the next smiling one. On its surface, the concept of the visual seems guiltless enough, and stereotypically Dove-esque – the women look happy and healthy, as though their new body wash is life-altering. But a quick viewing of the GIF, or one of its screen shots, reveals an offensive narrative in which a Black woman becomes White. Yes, it’s as weird and racist as it sounds.

Dove’s playing into racial microaggressions may shock some consumers aware of the brand’s self-proclaimed social consciousness. The Real Beauty ad campaign prides itself in showcasing a diverse array of non-photoshopped, non-model women. And even though the brand was faced with backlash in 2011 when it cranked out an advertisement with a similar, anti-dark-skinned connotation, this new, ugly image was surprising.

Yet, for the Black community, this was anticipated. People with dark skin have always beared the brunt in advertisements. Particularly those marketing personal care or household items like soap products or laundry detergent. In these instances, brownness symbolizes filth and whiteness represents an “after” image of cleanliness and purity.

In April, Black-owned hair and skin care company Shea Moisture was criticized for dropping a “hair hate” commercial. It featured three white women and a sole Black one — despite the company’s primary demographic of Black consumers. And though Shea Moisture’s advertisement lacked racist suggestions, it served to oppress Black women. So if Black-owned companies can’t help but alienate its brothers and sisters, then why should Blacks expect white-led brands to do any better?

However, the Black community’s expectation does not mean acceptance. An uproar on Black Twitter at the beginning of October quickly spread to the rest of the social media platform the following week. Among offended Dove consumers, the consensus was that the company was “cancelled.” Even white people were questioning how the Real Beauty brand has missed the mark so enormously.

“Okay Dove…One racist ad makes you suspect. Two racist ads make you kinda guilty,” Black CNN political commentator Keith Boykin tweeted in reference to screen shots of both the 2011 and recent Dove advertisements.

Boykin was just one of many disgruntled Black folks. Soon after the clip’s original Facebook release, Dove issued an apology, promising that the company was still “committed to representing the beauty of diversity.”

“We missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused,” the brand posted to social media Oct. 7, a few days after the ad went live online.

Yet, things still weren’t adding up. If it wasn’t Dove’s intention to promote cleanliness via a depiction of a dark woman morphing into a fair one, then what was the company’s motive?

That was something the black woman in the advertisement, Lola Ogunyemi, explained in a personal essay for the Guardian last Tuesday.

“If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior…I would have been the first to say an emphatic ‘no,’” Ogunyemi wrote in the article. “I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out of the door. However, the experience I had with the Dove team was positive…all of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective – to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.”

The Nigerian model proceeded to say that the full version of the clip – a 30-second television commercial featuring women of varying races and ages — better communicated the positive, accepting message that Dove was trying to spread. Although she “(could) see how the snapshot circulating the web (had been) misinterpreted, considering the fact that Dove has faced backlash in the past for the exact same issue.”

Overall, Ogunyemi’s personal statement was appreciable. It was also detailed and sensible enough to perhaps dissuade some riled-up Dove fans from throwing away the company’s products. A full viewing of the advertisement’s TV edit, or even the 13-second Facebook edit, attests that the screen grabs infamously popularized on social media were misrepresentative of the commercial at large.

Still, Dove shouldn’t be let off the hook easily. The company is lucky to have casted a woman as involved as Ogunyemi. Someone brave and articulated enough to summarize the history and purpose behind the calamity of an advertisement. In theory, if it weren’t for her editorial, the brand would probably be facing considerably more denunciation than it is now.

Yes, the Dove team offered their deepest apologies on Facebook and Twitter, and admitted that they wrongly approached racial inclusion. But while wrapped up in so-called regret, they failed to clarify that the Black-to-white image was a snippet of a tremendously larger, positive argument.

It’s understandable that Dove didn’t defend the GIF for the sake of avoiding further backlash. But if the company truly wanted to express its honest intention, then its team could’ve at least offered the original 13- or 30-second advertisement as a counter to the deceptive screen shot circulated online. Instead, the brand’s inaction paints Dove to be guiltily racist rather than well-intentioned. It calls attention to how feeble-minded and inconsiderate corporate marketers are.

An unrecognizable actor or model shouldn’t have to publicly explicate an advertisement. Although their words are heard and valued, these nameless people are not spokespeople. They are not celebrities with social leverage.

With consideration of video production, Shea Moisture’s mishap becomes relevant again. The Black community chastised the hair care company for contributing to the erasure of Black women and their hair. Shortly after, advertisement industry news sources — and even citizen investigators — were noting that the commercial was developed by non-Black advertising professionals. Suddenly the cause of such a misrepresentative, whitewashed and exclusive campaign was crystal clear.

Like Shea Moisture, Dove has assumed the role of the white oppressor. Although the personal care company has remained silent about who or what conceptualized the recent advertisement, it’s possible that an absence of ethnic diversity in its own marketing or advertising team may have led to its second round of racist imagery.

Just as the advertising industry should embrace diversity, its specialists should embrace the concept of having a socially critical eye. It’s necessary for these marketers to pay attention to the smallest details of their campaign creations. The brains behind Dove’s advertisements should be wise enough to realize that in today’s age of digital editing and widespread social consciousness, visuals of oppression can and will be seen. They will be screen grabbed, chopped and questioned by anti-racist critics who justifiably refuse to let instances of quiet prejudice slide.

In the wake of the advertisement controversy, filmmaker Ava DuVernay told the Dove that its apology wasn’t substantial.

“You do good work,” she tweeted. “Have been for years. Do better here.” Her comments were a response to the company’s weak excuses. But her last, concise criticism can be interpreted as a demand aimed at the entire ad industry — do better.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Dove clip exemplifies need for racial awareness in the industry”

  1. Devon Ezekiel Nutts on April 16th, 2018 8:38 pm

    The White woman becomes a Mexican woman I’m confused as to why this detail is conveniently excluded from this article.

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