Racial tensions in this country are unarguably at an all-time high. As a black woman, I am beyond outraged over Neo-Nazi’s “demonstrating” in support of Confederate memorials and white supremacy and the criticism and vilifying of NFL players “taking a knee” to call attention to the scores of deadly shootings of unarmed black men by police. These are the kinds of race issues that we need to be up in arms about because they represent the reprehensible and repugnant side of racism in this country.
But the whole uproar over the Dove commercial this past week gives me pause. Are we all becoming just a little bit TOO sensitive and jittery over race in this country today? Is it possible that race is such a trigger issue for Americans that we see racism where none was intended?
Dove releases a 3-second Facebook ad, featuring three women of different ethnicities wearing skin-tone matching T-shirts. As each one pulls off her T-shirt, we see the other unveiled after her. Reads pretty harmless, right? As one Twitter user pointed out, it is like a mini, scaled down version of Michael Jackson’s video for his song “Black or White”, where people of various ethnicities, ages and gender morph into each other, symbolizing racial harmony and unity. I can’t possibly know what Dove intended, but when I look at the ad with this lens, I see an ad trying to celebrate racial diversity in women.
Dove is a brand that has been known to spend a lot of marketing dollars promoting healthy self-esteem for young women and positive body image. Going back to their Real Beauty campaign, over a decade ago, Dove created myriad resources for young girls to develop a healthier self-image. More recently in 2013, Dove released a video called, Real Beauty sketches, (tagline, “You’re more beautiful than you think”), to show women how beautiful they are when they don’t zone in on what they perceive to be their facial flaws, but can see themselves how others see them. It was beautifully done. A perusal of Dove’s website, will highlight campaign after campaign that champions, uplifts and celebrates women of ALL colors. It is part of their brand promise!
The Dove brand has reflected diversity, self-acceptance, and feminism for a long time. So why would they create an ad, to dismantle their powerful brand identity and alienate a cross section of their target audience? Was it merely a marketing goof?
Here’s what I think Dove got wrong in their latest ad: They showed a black woman unveiling herself as a white woman. Bingo. If they had shown the white woman first, unveiling herself as a black woman, I don’t think we would be talking about this at all. Instead, it was racially insensitive for Dove to show the black woman followed by the white one. But I think Dove might have actually been trying to show diversity like they claimed in their public apology and “missed the mark”. So the fact that there is actually a third woman in the ad of East Indian descent with medium complexion was overshadowed by the age old stereotypes that were triggered anew, of black people desiring whiteness or needing to be cleansed of their blackness. And all it took was for one Twitter user to crop just the photos of the black woman revealed to be white for all racial hell to break loose on Dove.
Unfortunately, this type of racially offensive advertising is all too familiar for people of color. A New York Times feature yesterday, gave a quick run down of other brands in the past that released racist ads. The list includes well-known brands such as Intel, Nivea and (coincidentally?) Dove back in 2011.
I think the Dove snafu highlights a larger issue really, and it is this: if we don’t all start having REAL conversations about race in our circles, this country is in for an even bigger wake up call than the racial protests we are seeing in cities all across the country. It is unfortunate that more than 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech, that the United States still does not have its race act together.
Natalie Jobity is an inspirational author, branding coach, marketing consultant and freelance writer. She is the author of the Amazon Best-selling style guide :Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It. Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style. Read more of her inspirational posts on her website. Email her at Elanimage07@gmail.com.