Most of you will be aware of the many steps involved in the approval process when it comes to an ad campaign. So how is it possible that a blatantly racist add can be approved and published without anyone calling it out?
In this article we are going to take a closer look at a racist ad campaign launched by Dove in 2017. How does this happen? We take a look at how problematic ads like these get approved and we discuss if this damaged the brand reputation in the long term.
Historically Dove has been known for the unique shape of their soap – a softer, flowing shape that’s very distinctive. Starting in the 1950s their TV ads stood out – watch it here. Dove continued to shift with the times – moving beyond soap into moisturizers and skin care products throughout the years, along with hair care products. Dove was a leader in female centered advertising, and in ads that rang out with equality and empowerment, and so it was with that history that in 2004 Dove launched the “Real Beauty” campaign. In one of the most compelling ads, a sketch artist drew two pictures of the same woman – one as they described themselves, and another as they were described by a friend or bystander. The differences were striking. Watch it here.
Dove seemed to be doing the thing all brands want to do – marketing their brand well, while also accomplishing meaningful social good. But for brands – playing in the realm of altruism can be a tricky, if not dangerous place. And Dove realized that all too clearly. In 2017 Dove ran an online ad, a 3-second Facebook ad that featured a black woman taking off her top to reveal – a white woman. The internet went nuts with responses like: “ What are the employees of Dove smoking?” and “Dear Dove, go shove your useless products to the nearest white supremacy ditch” and launched the hashtag #boycottdove. Watch the ad here.
The outrage caused by the ad, helped to remind people of an ad Dove had created in 2011 that also caused a stir. That ad featured three women in front of panels that said “before” and “after.” The women were positioned so that the black woman was in front of the “before” panel, a white woman with dark hair in the middle, and a white, blonde woman in front of the “after” panel.
After the 2017 ad scandal, Dove issued a statement saying they were “re-evaluating their internal practices for creating and approving content.” The model used in the 2017 ad spoke out and shared her opinion on the ad. Watch it here.
Critics weren’t about to let Dove get off that easy. Chris Allieri from the NYC based PR firm Mullberry & Astor called it “unconscionable,” and said (quote), “When your ad is being called ‘racist’ by people across social media, you’ve done a lot more than ‘miss the mark. It just goes to show that in reality there is a long way from Cannes to Main Street. Maybe they should have ‘real people’ create the ads rather than just starring in them.” Read the rest of this article here.
So – how does something like this happen? How could such a message make it to public launch without someone along the way recognizing how bad it was? Well one of the reasons companies have a hard time creating culturally sensitive content, and recognizing when their efforts to do so fail, is because they’re not very diverse themselves. The advertising marketplace (and ad biz hiring) simply hasn’t caught up with the reality of purchasing behavior. Black women, in particular, are an ever-more-powerful force in trend setting and purchasing. But representation of black women in boardrooms and executive panels, not just in advertising but everywhere, continues to lag.
So how did the controversy affect the Dove brand? Will it hurt them long term? Most analysts say no. Paulina Lezama, brand & purpose director at creative agency RY calls Unilever the “poster child for purpose-driven brands” and says their legacy of doing so should help them recover. “Is it the end of the brand? Absolutely not…. If less genuine brands like Pepsi and Volkswagen have carried on with business as usual after their fo pas, it just shows that as consumers we are quick to criticise, but we are also quick to forgive and forget.”
In late 2017 Dove renewed their commitment to promoting Real Beauty of women around the world. Their statement – taken from Unilever.com, says in part, “Women have always been our inspiration. Since the beginning, we have been wholly committed to providing superior care to all women and to championing real women and real beauty in our advertising.”
The important thing to remember is to have people of color having several seats at tables so that agencies and brands are more inclusive and that obvious racist ads don’t see the light of day. For more information on this topic, head over to The Marketing Rescue Podcast.