Black is Beau­ti­ful, Dove is in­sen­si­ble

The Mercury - - OPINION -

TO THE or­di­nary per­son, the word “dove” evokes an image of a bird, pure white, a sym­bol of peace.

But re­cently that word de­scrib­ing a cleans­ing agent hurt the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of many peo­ple through a racially de­picted ad­ver­tise­ment.

The ad was con­cocted by an agency that in try­ing to be cre­ative pro­duced an of­fen­sive seg­ment.

The soap prod­uct was in­tended to ap­peal to peo­ple in a so­ci­ety where they are judged by the colour of their skins.

Skin colour and race are on the same side of the coin. From bib­li­cal times, white rep­re­sented pu­rity personified as an an­gel while black rep­re­sented evil in the form of Satan. Up un­til re­cent times, when blacks achieved their lib­er­a­tion, this per­cep­tion pre­vailed.

Many ad­ver­tise­ments sub­lim­i­nally still sub­scribe to the stereotype. This is not the first time that a mar­ket­ing agency of­fended peo­ple. Some time ago com­mu­ni­ties protested when re­li­gious sym­bols were used in a deroga­tory man­ner.

The of­fence in the ad­ver­tise­ment is in the per­pet­u­a­tion of that be­lief rooted in prej­u­dice. The beauty in­dus­try is a mul­ti­mil­lion rand in­dus­try. It en­dorses our self-image that ex­presses our in­ner ego.

The mar­ket­ing agency is merely re­spond­ing to the “stim­u­lus” of its con­sumers. One must hon­estly in­tro­spect how we are cul­pa­ble in send­ing mixed mes­sages re­gard­ing our per­cep­tion of beauty re­lated to the colour of the skin.

The prod­uct can nei­ther wash away the pain and suf­fer­ing caused by apartheid nor can the brand de­fine our stan­dard of beauty.

To re­store our dig­nity, the slo­gan “Black is Beau­ti­ful” is pro­moted with a sense of pride.

The mes­sage ac­knowl­edges that the beauty in each of us both in­wardly and out­wardly is re­vealed in a va­ri­ety of ways.

An ax­iom in mar­ket­ing is bad public­ity is bet­ter than no public­ity. The soap ad­vert at­tracted ex­ten­sive me­dia cov­er­age where an in­ter­na­tional TV chan­nel de­voted a panel dis­cus­sion for nearly 30 min­utes on the racial is­sue of the ad­ver­tise­ment. No com­pany could have wished for a bet­ter ex­po­sure of their prod­uct. An apol­ogy is merely a slap on the wrist and is the weak­est, con­ve­nient and eas­i­est form of for­give­ness.

Un­less very strong de­ter­rent mea­sures are put in place that could take a va­ri­ety of forms, com­pa­nies mo­ti­vated by prof­its would con­tinue to act with im­punity and non­cha­lantly.

The con­sumer could also help to con­vey a mes­sage of self-re­spect, to be judged “by the con­tent of (our) char­ac­ter” and not to place em­pha­sis on the colour of the skin as a cri­te­rion for suc­cess in life.

This would im­pact on the medium of the mes­sage.

Let us con­trol the process and dis­pel the no­tion that is em­braced by the in­dus­try.

DS RA­JAH Mus­grave

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