Dove can’t wash away racist ad

Imperial Valley Press - - OPINION - KENT BUSH Kent Bush is pub­lisher of Shawnee (Ok­la­homa) News-Star and can be reached at

If it was an ac­ci­dent, it was tragic. If it was in­ten­tional, it was one of the most cyn­i­cal mar­ket­ing moves ever.

Dove hit so­cial me­dia with an ad over the week­end that showed a black wo­man us­ing their prod­uct and then tak­ing off her choco­late col­ored shirt to re­veal a white wo­man with a lighter col­ored shirt.

The mes­sage was “Dove soap gets you clean.” Of course the man­ner they de­liv­ered the mes­sage was us­ing a “dirty” black wo­man as the be­fore im­age and a “cleaner” white wo­man as the af­ter model.

It is hard to say if it was truly racist in its in­tent since the white wo­man took off her shirt re­veal­ing a slightly darker skinned wo­man. The ad was clumsy, at best.

Some peo­ple on so­cial me­dia saw it as a very racist way of de­liv­er­ing the mes­sage. Oth­ers didn’t find the racism so ob­vi­ous.

Nor­mally, I am will­ing to give peo­ple the ben­e­fit of the doubt. How­ever, this is not a nor­mal sit­u­a­tion.

This is the same com­pany that faced back­lash to a 2011 cam­paign us­ing a black, brown and white wo­man as be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter mod­els of clean­li­ness. It’s been six years since they faced self-in­flicted, race-based con­tro­versy. That makes this ad feel less ac­ci­den­tal.

Beyond Dove, the soap in­dus­try as a whole has long used the mar­ket­ing ploy of wash­ing black skin to make it white. The soap is so good, you don’t have to be black any­more.

The racist mes­sage was al­ways clear. Peo­ple are left to won­der if Dove is guilty of hav­ing a mar­ket­ing team that is so racially tone deaf that it has no mem­ory of a 2011 out­cry and the his­tory of ads in the in­dus­try.

The other op­tion is less palat­able. I would rather be­lieve you are ig­no­rant and meant no harm than shrewd and sit­ting in a room full of ex­ec­u­tives who spout tired tomes like “there is no bad pub­lic­ity.”

Hon­estly, when was the last time you cared about a Dove ad? Was it 2011?

This is the first time I have ever writ­ten about one.

So ei­ther Dove mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tives are ig­no­rant or cyn­i­cal. I’m not sure that ei­ther falls on a good spot on the spec­trum.

Dove ad­mit­ted that this ad missed the mark. They said it “did not rep­re­sent the di­ver­sity of real beauty, which is some­thing Dove is pas­sion­ate about and is core to our be­liefs, and it should not have hap­pened ... we apol­o­gize deeply and sin­cerely for the of­fense that it has caused.”

It was such a brief clip that it is hard to be­lieve some­one at Dove was let­ting out pent up racist be­liefs.

How­ever, in that com­pany and in that in­dus­try — both of which have strug­gled with racial in­sen­si­tiv­ity in mar­ket­ing — there is no way this ad was prop­erly vet­ted be­fore it hit so­cial me­dia chan­nels.

The ad suc­ceeded in get­ting peo­ple to talk about Dove again, but I’m not sure a de­bate about whether you as­cribe to ab­hor­rent be­liefs or are merely in­com­pe­tent is a great path to fu­ture suc­cess.

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