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Dove before After ad campaign
Dove Controversy screen capture by @NaytheMua

Dove ad screen capture via @NaytheMua

Dove has historically actively pursued women’s diversity in race, color, size, shape. This is a controversy of context in a world that is not only allowed but empowered to excerpt, crop, edit, and define meaning.

Reputation is what you have and work hard to preserve. Most crises result from foot-in-mouth disease. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  They’re mostly self-inflicted injuries that result from the disease known as, “hey, that’s not what I meant!”

For those of you under a rock, there are a couple Dove ads that were circulating on Facebook, past tense, that are spit-take racially offensive as they are covered and portrayed on Facebook and Twitter.

In one, an African American woman in a brown top undresses to reveal a white woman in a light pink top.

While the ad continues to show the white woman further undressing into an Asian woman, showing Dove’s diversity and how their body lotion is ideal for all types and colors of skin,  the image of a black woman skinning down to become a white woman, “cleaning off the black”/”washing off the black” is all anyone came away with and all anyone will remember.

Here’s the ground zero post on Facebook from Naythemua. She’s recently been interviewed on Good Morning America about the incident.

Dove "before after" campaign

Dove “before after” campaign

The damage continued with another ad for Dove lotion, wherein a curvy African American with curly black hair, on the left of the ad, in the “before” box, transitions into a woman of color with wavy brown hair, and then finally into a skinny, straight-haired, blonde standing in the “after” box.

Maybe it was an innocent mistake on Dove’s part. But it’s starting not to feel that way in any year, to say nothing of 2017.  It’s not what Dove meant, it’s what people see–and Black Twitter isn’t happy at all.

I minored in creative writing in undergrad and was always reduced to being spitting mad when my friends would playfully reduce my poetry into being about everything besides my most earnest attempts at pouring my heart out (apparently all of my poetry is simply lightly-veiled psych 101 Freudian code about sex and genitals–and upon a recent reread, it’s true).

For example, back in 2008,  and I teamed up to write (and Matt actually wrote) Pepsi Opens a Vein of Controversy With New Suicide-Themed Ads with the follow up that I wrotePepsi Apologized to Me for Its Suicide Ads.

PepsiMax "One is the loneliest number" Suicide Ad

2008 PepsiMax Suicide Ad

This was an example of cross-cultural confusion but that didn’t mean a thing when victims of actual suicide and the people who love them saw the ads on message boards and social media. Official diagnosis: heartless, monstrous, and insensitive to the issue of suicide.

Creamer wrote, the ads “show a cute but sad little personification of a calorie committing suicide in a few ultraviolent ways, including a gunshot, a hanging, self-immolation and even slitting his little blue wrist with a razor blade.”  Apparently the sporty people of Düsseldorf prefer the darkest humor imaginable. Okay, they’re monsters.

The ads for PepsiMax by BBDO Düsseldorf were focus-grouped to a very specific European sports demographic. The expectation was that ads can be not only targeted but contained. That was almost 9-years ago and Dove apparently hasn’t gotten the memo: like poetry, literature, and the Bible, once an ad is published, the author has zero control over how it’s interpreted. Companies need to think about those possible interpretations before the ad is out, and recognize mistakes before it’s time for damage control.

There’s a lot of news about this. Allure, USA Today, US Magazine, NPR, WNEP, and so many others — even Snopes!  Here’s a collection of tweets that directly illustrate the sort of conversations happening on Twitter over the last few days, for example, direct from the source:


Feel free to own the yacht but hire a crew if you’re not yet seaworthy. If you get my drift and want to adopt the yachting lifestyle yourself but either don’t have the mad sailing skills yourself, don’t yet posses a world-class crew, and don’t know yet where to go, then you should give me a call or reach out me by email — so I can help you pilot your vessel now, in the tranquil blue-green shallows of the Caribbean, as well as in the roughest seas and into — as well as out of — the storm.

If you’d like to chat more, call me at +1 (202) 869-3210 Ext 0001  email me, or feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me.

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Chris Abraham

About Chris Abraham

A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and advisor to the industries' leading firms. He specializes in Web 2.0 technologies, including content syndication; organize search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.

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