Quickly scan the PR Daily story below. A MultiCultClassics perspective immediately follows…
Anatomy of a PR crisis: Dove forced to defend allegedly ‘racist’ ad
By Michael Sebastian
PR crises can happen in a flash. One day you’re thinking about your long-weekend plans, the next you’re responding to claims of racism.
Such is the case this week for Unilever-owned Dove brand.
On Monday, the blog Copyranter shared the ad (shown above) from Dove under the headline: “Dove body wash turns Black women into Latino women into White women.” The blog called the ad “stupid” and suggested it was a fake. It wasn’t.
Should Dove have responded to the blog immediately? There’s little need to ask that question because hours later a much larger website, Gawker, picked up the story, calling it “the most (unintentionally) racist skin care ad in about … 10 months.” One day later the blog Styleite asked the question: “Is Dove’s Newest Body Wash Ad Racist?”
Today, The Huffington Post, BNet, several newspapers and TV station websites, and countless blogs are asking the same question: Is this ad racist?
In just three days, a 54-word blog post has sparked a PR storm for Dove.
Dove’s PR firm, Edelman, offered Gawker this response:
“We believe that real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and ages and are committed to featuring realistic and attainable images of beauty in all our advertising. We are also dedicated to educating and encouraging all women and girls to build a positive relationship with beauty, to help raise self-esteem and to enable them to realize their full potential.
“The ad is intended to illustrate the benefits of using Dove VisibleCare Body Wash, by making skin visibly more beautiful in just one week. All three women are intended to demonstrate the ‘after’ product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.”
Meanwhile, Twitter users are chattering about the ad, with some people—including this PR pro—giving it the (predictable) “fail” label. Dove’s Facebook page is relatively quiet today, with one commenter defending the company.
Dove has won accolades for its Self-Esteem Fund (from Oprah, no less), encouraging women to “believe your own unique beauty and guide your daughter to believe in hers.” At the same time, Unilever has taken flak for a Facebook app that helps Indian women lighten their skin.
MultiCultClassics originally viewed the Dove dreck in March—thanks to a tip from Harry Webber—and later learned that the friendly folks at Sociological Images examined the ad about a week earlier (check out the SI post, as it features provocative comments). Having grown tired of ripping the consistent crap generated by Dove over the years, this blog opted to forgo critiquing the latest mess. The “PR crisis,” however, inspires a few observations.
The Edelman statement is especially obscene.
First, why is Unilever using Edelman as its mouthpiece? As always, the responsible advertising agency avoids the heat. But bringing in the sinister sleazebags behind the recent Facebook fiasco adds ugliness to Dove’s Real Beauty bullshit. Liars conspiring with con artists is just plain pathetic.
Not sure how Unilever can say, “We believe that real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and ages and are committed to featuring realistic and attainable images of beauty in all our advertising,” with a straight face. The Latina and White woman in this ad clearly exhibit Eurocentric ideal model features from head to toe (in contrast to the Black woman who physically resembles a pre-Weight Watchers Jennifer Hudson). Additionally, the overall brand has abandoned Real Beauty with its campaigns for Dove Damage Therapy, Dove Clinical Protection Deodorant and Dove Men+Care—not to mention the infamous Dove casting call. The commitment to “featuring realistic and attainable images of beauty” has never been a bigger falsehood. And MultiCultClassics has believed it’s been exclusive malarkey from the beginning.
(MultiCultClassics will pass on spotlighting Unilever’s hypocrisy in promoting Vaseline with sexy stewardesses, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise with sexy secretaries, AXE with ultra-sexy sexism and Fair & Lovely skin lightening.)
The fresh gripe here involves the actual item being advertised. Dove VisibleCare Body Wash hypes “making skin visibly more beautiful in just one week.” OK, but skincare is a big deal for Black women in particular. Products with extra moisturizers like cocoa butter hold tremendous appeal to the specific audience. It seems as if Unilever and Dove think that one formula will work equally well across all segments. Forget the many real and perceived insults in the controversial layout. Unilever doesn’t even understand the basics of multicultural marketing.
Is the Dove VisibleCare Body Wash ad offensive? Yes, but for lots of reasons beyond the publicized complaints. It’s merely a single blemish on a devious, disgusting and disfigured campaign—brought to you by culturally clueless advertisers and White advertising agencies.