Trending Now

It’s not what Dove meant, it’s what people see

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.

Chris Abraham

Chris Abraham, digital strategist and technologist, is a leading expert in digital: search engine optimization (SEO), online relationship management (ORM), Internet privacy, Wikipedia curationsocial media strategy, and online public relations with a focus on blogger outreachinfluencer engagement, and Internet crisis response, with the digital PR and social media marketing agency Gerris digital. [Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call with me] 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 adviser to the industries' leading firms. Chris Abraham specializes in web technologies, including content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.  Chris Abraham was named a Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer by Forbes, #1 PR2.0 Influencer by Traackr, and top-10 social media influencers by Marketwire; and, for what it’s worth, Chris has a Klout of 79 the last time he looked. Chris Abraham started doing web development back in 1994, SEO in 1998, blogging in 1999, influencer engagement in 2003, social media strategy in 2005, blogger outreach in 2006, and Wikipedia curation in 2007. Feel free to self-schedule a 15-minute call, a 30-minute call, or a 60-minute call. If you want to know the services that Chris offers check out Services If you want to work with Chris use the Contact Form You're welcome to follow me via Social Media You can learn more about Chris over in About Chris writes a lot so check out the Blog Chris offers webinars so check Events

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top Back to top