For years, beauty product maker Dove has been celebrating women’s beauty through various marketing, advertising, and consistent messaging. They had built their reputation on it, largely thanks to their 13-year long “Real Beauty” campaign built around diversity.
They were continuing to do just that with their more marketing campaign for one of their soap products. In its original form, the commercial depicts a series of women of various ethnicities removing their T-shirts and turning into each other. On its own, the commercial is blatant in its messaging – showing that beauty has no single standard, and it actually comes in a variety of skin tones and more. A wonderful inclusive message that works exactly as intended. No controversy there.
But that’s just one channel. And when you take one message intended for one channel and apply it without doing due diligence, that same message and be understandably taken a whole different way.
You might end up trading diversity for, a more ahem, strictly definition of what beauty looks like.
How does that happen?!
Easily. If you don’t take the time to look before you leap into a new medium, such as Facebook. When Dove posted a 3-second clip from that commercial, it was of a black woman removing her short to reveal a light-skilled woman. (1) Oops.
Of course, without the context, the Facebook ad was easily, and understandably, being interpreted by many as insulting to women of color.
Dove did act quickly to rectify their mistake. They pulled down the ad and issued an apology on Twitter:
“An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused.” (2)
Short and to the point. They made no excuses, issued no outside blame nor did they use double-speak. A good move for sure, but it’s still a fail in my book because they didn’t apparently vet their own image choices before uploading to Facebook. As I’m sure you’ve heard some version of the adage, the internet is forever. You might take it down, but the image still exists online, and it’s already been shared and shared some more. It’s going to be around for all to see, including the media, who are more than anxious to make sure their audiences get to see and read all about it and spreading the word about a mistake that threatened to undo 13 years’ work, just with the headlines alone:
Business Insider: Dove’s ‘racist’ ad might have cost the brand an advantage it spent 13 years building
The Guardian: Dove apologizes for ad showing black woman turning into white one
The New York Times: Dove Drops an Ad Accused of Racism
Washington Post: A Dove ad showed a black woman turning herself white. The backlash is growing.
This is why you can’t let anything, not even a single 3-second clip, slip by. Because that’s all it took to have the words, “Dove” and “racist” appearing in the same headlines all over the media. Years of hard work and untold amounts of money were in danger of being flushed down the proverbial toilet.
Fair or unfair, one’s perception is one’s reality – never leave yourself open to interpretation. Be clear and be precise in your messaging. Some in the media were ready to give the beauty company “a pass”. (3) After all Dove may have made a faux pas, but they immediately took action to fix the problem. However, the backlash was also immediate.
Even if there some in the media to argued on behalf of Dove, they don’t get to decide what the public ultimately think. Consider: For them, the Facebook clip may have been that all they saw – and a first impression at that. And they’re the final judges in the court of public opinion – and they’re not under any obligation to sympathize or forgive. Often, they don’t do either.