Unilever’s Dove again found itself apologizing for an ad and defending itself against charges of promulgating racist imagery after it posted a three-second gif on Facebook “showing a black woman taking off her brown shirt to reveal a white woman, who then took off her lighter-colored shirt, revealing a woman of color in a slightly darker shirt,” as the AP reports.
Reaction to the ad took off Friday after makeup artist Naomi Blake@naythemua posted the following on her Facebook page, as the Guardian’s Nicola Slawson reports, along with four screen shots of the gif: “So I'm scrolling through Facebook and this is the #dove ad that comes up.... ok so what am I looking at....” She also links to a tone-deaf response from Facebook to the original comment she had made under the ad.
“The response from those on social media was swift and damning, with many questioning why Dove would feature the dark-skinned woman first,” writesTime’s Casey Quackenbush.
“The message conveyed to me was that the Black Woman is dirty and once you use Dove soap, you’ll be clean and White,” one commenter wrote, Quackenbush reports.
On Saturday at 1:27 p.m., @Dove tweeted: “An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused.”
Reactions to the original Facebook post were strongly in the “how could you let this happen?” vein. Reactions to the apology tended toward the response of director Ava DuVernay, who has 1.2 million followers:“You can do better than ‘missed the mark.’ Flip + diminishing. Deepens your offense. You do good work. Have been for years. Do better here.”
“‘This is the most non-apology apology I've seen all week. Are you joining the Trump administration now? WTF is that ad even supposed to mean?’ Sonia Gupta tweeted at the company,” Kalhan Rosenblatt reports for NBC News.
Dove made basically the same argument on Facebook a little later, adding “The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future.”
“Many of the nearly 1,000 responses agreed that the ad was offensive, even racist. But not everybody felt that way. Somebody posting under the name Caressa Cornelius wrote, ‘I'm not understanding why people are so offended. And somebody identified as Jessica Cannady wrote, ‘there was nothing wrong with the commercial ... Lets do better and not over think things,’” NPR’s Amy Held reports.
On Sunday, Dove emailed a statement to reporters stating the ad “did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened,” the AP reports.
“We apologize deeply and sincerely for the offense that it has caused and do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience,” it continued.
Dove faced similar charges in 2011 for “a body wash ad showing three women with a range of skin tones standing in a row, the word ‘before’ above the head of the woman with darker skin and ‘after’ above the head of the woman with lighter skin,” NPR’s Held reminds us.
“Okay, Dove ... One racist ad makes you suspect. Two racist ads makes you kinda guilty,” author and CNN political commentator Keith Boykin tweeted yesterday, she reports.
For the New York Times, Maggie Astor cites recent ads from other companies that have also drawn fire for being racist, including a 2007 print ad for Intel, a 2012 Popchips spot and Nivea’s 2017 “White is purity.”
Astor also points out, “the transition from the black woman to the white women — compiled into a static collage by a social media user — evoked a long-running racist trope in soap advertising: a ‘dirty’ black person cleansed into whiteness. (Among other examples was an ad by the N. K. Fairbank Company, which was in business from 1875 to 1921, that featured a white child asking a black child, “Why doesn’t your mamma wash you with Fairy soap?”).”