By Meaghan Angers
On October 6th, Dove released a 3-second video clip on their Facebook page of an African American woman taking off her skin tone t-shirt to reveal a white woman. This advertisement sparked massive online criticism on Facebook and Twitter. Social media users referred to racist soap adverts that appeared in the early 19th and 20th century. These adverts portrayed black people “scrubbing off” their skin to become white. However, if you watch the entire advertisement, there are three girls, where the last girl also has a darker skin tone. Dove representatives explain, “The short video was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and a celebration of diversity”. Dove declined to state who and how the advertisement was approved for production or release.
Lola Ogunyemi, the African American actress, featured in the advertisement does not find the advertisement controversial nor offensive, and is proud of the final result. During her interview with The Guardian on Tuesday, Ogunyemi stated, “If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior…I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for”. Ogunyemi is disappointed at the reaction to this advertisement because her image is now associated with “racist advertisement”, and stands firmly behind her decision to star in the advertisement.
This advertisement is viewed as a modern twist on soap advertisements seen throughout the 19th and 20th century. Although Dove’s intent was to show diversity in beautiful models, their impact was the opposite. The impact sparked outrage on social media as many people viewing this for the first time believed Dove’s intent was to demonstrate that white people are cleaner and more beautiful. This advertisement meant to encourage the sale of their soap went terribly wrong, as the intent did not equal the impact. On the contrary, Ogunyemi revealed the television
advertisement was supposed to feature women of multiple ethnicities with the words “all skin deserves gentleness”.
In 2011, Dove released an advertisement featuring three women lined up by darkness of skin tone from left to right. Above the women displays two skin tones with the words “before” and after”. The advertisement did not intend to be racist. Yet, placing the women in that particular order with “before” and “after” implies that using Dove soap makes your skin lighter or cleaner. Moreover, Dove is a product of Unilever, which also creates Axe. Axe is notorious for their controversial advertisements, either sexualizing women or being a “real man”.
I personally do not understand how this advertisement was approved for production, or release. This advertisement does not serve any function to Dove selling body soap, rather it puts them in a bad spotlight. I do not understand how the marketing team at Dove believed this advertisement was “representing women of color thoughtfully”. I believe this issue of controversial advertisements needs to be discussed. According to a study conducted by Red Crow Marketing in 2015, consumers see anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements a day. The production and release of racially or sexist advertisements is not socially responsible because it harms the behavior of our culture. In this case, it is unfortunate for the marketing team at Dove that social media users found the similarities between this advertisement and racist adverts seen in the 19th and 20th century. I believe there were other ways for Dove to demonstrate that all women are beautiful and deserve healthy skin.