How Did ‘Racist Ad’ Get Past Producers to Cause Such a Backlash?

Four panels from a facial soap commercial convinced customers the spot was a racist ad, but what if they’d seen the actual video first?

Dove angered customers after posting a still of video from a commercial for its facial soap.

The still consisted of four separate frames from the spot and depicted an attractive black woman lifting up and removing her brown t-shirt to reveal a white woman in an off-white T-shirt.

It’s difficult to imagine how anyone could look at those panels — depicting a black woman who uses a facial soap and transforming into a white woman — and not see how it could be viewed as blatantly racist. Even if one or two people who might have approved the ad didn’t get it, it’s difficult for me to imagine that no one involved could look at that montage of four images and not imagine the backlash.

On the other hand, we’re told that the actual :30 commercial from which those stills were pulled featured a total of seven women, each of whom is revealed one by one as each removes her t-shirt to reveal the different face underneath.

If, instead of a ridiculous four-panel version, the full spot had been posted, so that people could have seen that the imaginative special effect produced a montage of multiple women of different ethnicities and ages, there might not have been such a negative reaction and claims of a racist ad.

Maybe, reversing the models — so that a white woman takes off her t-shirt to reveal a woman of color underneath — would have made a substantial difference.

Dove quickly pulled the image and posted a response on Facebook:

Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity. In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused. The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future.’

And what’s worse is that it’s not the first time the company has been accused of releasing what came to be branded a racist ad.

In this day and age, when it seems nearly everything is seen as “offensive” to someone, it’s easy to dismiss this recent “faux pas” as unimportant.

It isn’t.

But it’s also important to seek perspective from the diverse audience you are trying to attract to your product. In the New Statesman, writer Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff writes this:

For years and years, black women have been told our skin colour is unclean, dirty, something to be fixed. A solvable problem. It could be predicted that black women watching the advert would pick up an insinuation that by using Dove’s shower gel product you can “rectify” your skintone. The Asian woman is, of course, much fairer than the black model at the start of the advert. That message of going from dark to light, from unclean to clean still feels like the subconscious message.

Is there anyone of color in the pipeline that approves these kinds of messages? If not, maybe there should be.

Just as every person’s experience is slightly different, people of different races have their own take on the world. It’d be great if we could all see everything the same way, but it’s still going to be a long time before that comes close to happening.

That’s why understanding perspectives like these — and having people involved from the getgo who can explain those perspectives — is so vital to help us understand each other.

Maybe Unilever, the owner of Dove, had those people on board. Maybe, in this particular case, those individuals didn’t see the problem the way others did. Maybe it never occurred to anyone involved that it could possibly be perceived this way.

If that’s actually true, it sure seems like they need to expand their feedback: for a message that garners this degree of criticism, there should have been someone in the process to express those concerns and that person should have been listened to more closely before the spot ever saw the light of day.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.