How does this happen?
That’s the question I, and my befuddled black peers were asking when “news” of the Dove Facebook ad broke. We saw the images and headlines posted by lifestyle bloggers. Sequenced pics of a black woman then white woman were captioned with lines and supported by comments that suggested a tired racist trope of white beauty.
How does such a derogatory campaign get seen and approved by teams of product managers, marketing managers, copywriters, art directors, and account coordinators? It’s a valid question. From years in the business, I have intimate knowledge of process of pitching, defending and revising creative.
Still, I don’t have the answer to how this happens. Just more questions.
In Hot Water
Based on the “facts” so far, this seemed like a logical line of questioning for my imaginary inquisition with the Dove marketing team:
“So at no point from concept to creative, did anyone think it might be considered offensive? Was it reviewed and those who spoke up were ignored? Or was it that you understood the connotation and gambled anyway, content with PR hits in place of lost customers?”
Of course the Dove team can’t respond to my imaginary inquiry, but a company spokesperson did offer this in a New York Times article on the subject. “[the GIF] was intended to convey that Dove Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and, as a result, offended many people.”
Ah! It turns out the images that I, and many of my black peers saw, were just a part of the actual three second GIF that Dove launched (then pulled). The complete ad included three women: one black, one white, and one who I’ve read described as olive, Asian and Latina in three different references.
Though I’m still deciphering if there were perhaps two different ads, the reveal of that racially ambiguous third woman changes the story.
Why is she absent from so many of the images circulating?
Are communities of brown women offended as well?
Would my black peers feel differently about the ad, having seen the GIF in its entirety?
A Fresh Perspective
What I, and many people saw appears to be an online ad altered from its original context after the fact. Fed up with a familiar insult, we accepted the facts presented to us at face value, pounded at our keyboards and began cleaning our shelves of Dove products.
I’m all for raising our voices but I’m also for responsible journalism – or in this world of non journalistic social media sharing, some integrity at the least. We all know too well the dangers of deceptive messaging and uncritical consumption of online “news”. Yes, let’s continue to speak up for fairness, accurate representations and critical thinking but let’s demand the same of ourselves.
So now that I’ve seen the GIF and read a number of posts from different reporters and bloggers, what do I think? To be honest, I’m not really sure I get it. Maybe with all the hype I’m expecting more of it than it really is. But I will say that in Dove’s shoes, I’d anticipate some controversy. That’s the thing when you’re dealing with normalized misrepresentation. It gets messy.
I’ve since learned via this Guardian article, that the short GIF we saw was a pre-released clip from a longer 30-second ad that included SEVEN women. Written by the black woman featured in the ad, this article sheds a bit more light on the matter.
It’s unfortunate that the clip was released and shared out of context. Now none of us have the benefit of evaluating the originial creative.
Regardless, I still feel Dove has to expect some measure of backlash to any creative of this type. As long as there’s a climate of inequality, there will be scrutinizing eyes on any message claiming diversity/inclusion.