Racial Undertones in Advertising:

Lack of diversity divides us

Racism; oppression based on one's race, skin color, religion, ethnicity, etc., dates back to the early 16th century when White Anglo-Saxon Protestants colonized North America. While non-Whites were being oppressed through reservations, segregation, slavery, unjust imprisonment, murder, etc., White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were granted privileges in voting, education, criminal procedures, laws, etc.

Fast forward 400 years to the advertising industry in the 21st century where racism is still apparent. Social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, have made it easier than ever for people to call out brands when they feel an advertisement has racial undertones. We believe that this problem stems from a lack of diversity and an abundance of insensitivity in advertising agencies, as well as the companies of the brands themselves.

When it is brought to attention that an ad has racial undertones, the company apologizes and contends that the ad did not represent their concepts and intentions. But how can we stop this from happening as frequently as it does and eventually not at all? We hope to bring attention to the urgency of the need for diversity and how lack of diversity divides us, even through advertising. The advertising industry should reflect the increasing support and celebration of diversity and breaking of racial stereotypes that is happening in the United States during this time.

Sounds beautiful, inspirational, encouraging, diverse, and inclusive, right? This is how Dove describes themselves on the home page of their website. However, on Friday October 6th of 2017, Dove ran a tone-deaf three second ad on their Facebook page that caused a backlash on social media.

The ad (a three second gif) for Dove body wash began with a dark tone African American woman appearing to be in the bathroom with the post reading, "ready for a Dove shower? Sulfate free with 100% gentle cleansers, our body wash gets top marks from dermatologist." In the first frame, her arms are positioned to pull up her dark-tone shirt. In the next frame the image begins to reveal her skin (depicted as the same shirt but lighter tone). By the next frame, the dark skin-tone (shirt) has been completely removed to reveal a White woman with a White skin-tone (shirt). The ad implies that the dark skin-tone African American woman has transformed into a "clean" White woman after using the dove body wash. Once the White woman removes her white shirt, she becomes an a slightly darker skin-tone; an Asian. Dove has since removed the ad from Facebook.

However, before the ad was removed and before the backlash, Naomi Blake, a make-up artist, captured four screenshots of the ad and posted them on her Facebook page in a grid format that showed the sequence of the ad. "So, I'm scrolling through Facebook and this is the Dove ad that comes up.... ok so what am I looking at...." The image went viral with 1.6K comments, 4.1K likes, and 10.6K shares; resulting in Dove being exposed for sending subliminal racial messages that lighter skin-tone is better.

Grid of images from Dove shower ad

Image of tweet from Keith Boykin declaring Dove racist

Image of tweet from Patricia Templeton declaring Dove racist

Image of tweet from Gisele Cott declaring Dove racist

Even Advertising professionals voiced their opinions about the Dove ad. Whether they thought is was racist or not, they all agreed on two things: 1) outside of the race of the women, the idea of the execution was foolish and uncreative and 2) it was puzzling that the ad was approved throughout the agency without raising an eyebrow.

Creative Director in a New York ad agency:

"The colors of the shirts were matched to the races of the models. It shouldn't have happened. The whole "idea" (if you could call it one) was based on changing shirts. Or in this case, races. It called too much attention to the race of the models. The proof is if all the models were one race, the execution wouldn't even work. The whole idea was based on the races of the model, which is why it should have never been approved in the first place.... Also, racism aside, what does change skin and shirt colors have to do with a cleanser? The ad is bad on many levels."

Account Executive:

"It's not really [racist], and I can see what they were trying to do. But at the end of the day if someone didn't raise concerns before this went to market, the real issue is probably in house.... Calling Dove racist over this is a little farfetched, but the idea of making an ad where black woman turns into a white woman should have raised flags. I'm baffled how that could champion through every round of creative."

Advertising Professional:

"First and foremost, the ad is completely incoherent. Even if we assumed there was no racist intent, what the fuck is it supposed to even mean? What's the point of them changing into each other? It's there a missing tag line that's supposed to tie it together? Beyond that, ignoring the obvious racist history of soap advertising is unforgivable. And proof that there were not enough (or more probably, zero) non-white people in the room."

History of Racist Soap Ads

This Dove ad is very similar to the soap ads from the 1800s; portraying beautiful Brown skin as dirty and undesirable. With the same kind of offensive content, this cannot be ignored.

Tweet from Kawrage: The racist Dove ad is a continuation of a long history of racist soap advertising.

Professionals & Students Respond

Dr. Chen Guo responds to Dove ads
Dr. Chen Guo 1:01

Dr. Chen Guo, professor of interactive media and user experience design, responds to the Dove ads from her perspective as a Chinese woman.

Dave Wang, MFA 0:59

Professor and interactive designer Dave Wang responds to the Dove ads from a design point of view.

Tony Ware, Author & Novelist 3:55

Author and novelist Tony Ware discusses colorism and his reaction to the Dove ads from his perspective as a black man.

Gab Calderon, Senior University Student 1:54

University student Gab Calderon shares her perspective on the Dove ads as a half-Spanish woman.