Beauty company Dove has deleted and apologized for a ‘racist’ three-second video clip on its Facebook page.
The video consisted of a black woman taking off a brown shirt who then seemingly transformed into a white woman removing a similar shirt.
Dove swiftly responded to the social media backlash and apologized for missing “the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color” and that they “deeply regret the offense that it has caused”.
An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused.
— Dove (@Dove) October 7, 2017
Majority of Dove’s respondents on various social media pages agreed on the fact that the advertisement was racially insensitive.
However, some others chalked it up to over thinking and overreacting.
But perhaps the most apt reply came from a user named Raenette Johnson, who helpfully broke down the underlying implications of the advert: “For people to say black [women] are reaching…lemme break this down….. Dove is advertising body wash, which means that this product removes dirt/ has the ability to get you clean, POINT BLANK!”
This isn’t the first time Dove has found themselves in deep trouble for the way they promoted their products.
In 2011, Dove released an advertisement showing three women with different skin tones standing next to each other.
What followed was the word ‘before’ appearing above the head of the woman with darker skin and the word ‘after’ floating above the head of the woman with lighter skin.
CNN political commentator Keith Boykin quipped that as this was a repeated offense, Dove has effectively promoted themselves from ‘suspect’ to ‘guilty’.
One racist ad makes you suspect.
Two racist ads makes you kinda guilty. pic.twitter.com/hAwNCN84h2
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) October 8, 2017
An unfortunate PR disaster
Dove is a subsidiary of its parent company, Unilever.
And in June 2017, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed told AdAge that his company partners with a number of advertising agencies.
This included the likes of Publicis, Omnicom and Interpublic Group amongst others. Furthermore, it too, has its own in-house production team to facilitate and assist with content creation.
As such, many have wondered that with the company’s extensive public relations network, how it was possible that no one in the various teams had caught on to the racially insensitive, underlying meanings the aforementioned adverts featured.
Thought that Dove ad was fake until the apology happened. People actually sat at a table and said "Yeah post that picture"? 😒 pic.twitter.com/DZyj2jMned
— xoNecole (@xonecole) October 8, 2017
What’s the solution?
Corporations messing up their PR campaigns is a tale as old as time.
This ranges from iconic incidents such as the disastrous post-public relations effort (or lack of) from oil giant BP after their company caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to
Info-communications Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) rap video, which invited more ridicule and confusion than its intended purpose of getting Singapore “creative and connected”.
According to the Harvard Business School, managing and preventing public relations disasters boils down to communication, humility and employing the right people for the job.
This includes communicating with the PR team regularly and letting them know as quickly as possible if a campaign has gone haywired.
Second, companies should abandon the “I know best” mentality and in the event of a PR meltdown, appoint a ‘public face’ (preferably somebody senior) and apologize sincerely instead of appealing to authority by only issuing a press release in the hopes that the disaster will smooth over.
Third, the best solution is prevention. This means hiring and consulting the right people.
Case in point of Dove’s botched advert: the company enlisted television producer and presenter Shonda Rhimes to partake in a campaign where she and other women would share inspirational stories that circled back to the idea of inner beauty and diversity (Dove’s intended messages).
And according to Mashable, if Dove had consulted these women (who were also relevant stakeholders in the campaign) and not just the the executives “in the boardroom…and in front of their computers”, perhaps someone would have pointed out the insensitive areas of this blatantly problematic advertisement.