Racial stereotyping in advertising is not a new phenomenon, and has been at the forefront of major ad campaigns the world over.
The most recent was when internationally renowned beauty brand, Dove, released a three-second gif on to its US Facebook page.
A black model took off her shirt, to reveal a white model, and in turn the white model removed her shirt to reveal an Asian model.
The product which was being advertised? Body wash.
The general connotation derived from the three-second clip was that by using the body wash, dark skin becomes cleaner and whiter.
Dove South Africa issued the following statement following the outcry: “As part of a campaign for Dove body wash, a three-second video clip was posted to the US Facebook page. This 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. We have removed the post and have not published any other content.
“We apologise deeply and sincerely for the offence it has caused and do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience. Our richness lies in our diversity. Our beauty comes in different shapes, sizes, hair textures and skin tones. We believe beauty is diverse and diversity is beautiful.”
Of course, Dove has become synonymous with diversity in their marketing and advertising by making use of different women from different ethnic backgrounds, but this one seems to have flown over the head of the person who made the call to go ahead with the clip.
As expected, public outcry over the ad has been at an all-time high, with many calling for the boycotting of Dove and its products, labelling the company as racist.
In 2004, the company launched its Campaign For Real Beauty, which has tried to empower young girls and women across the world into redefining what “beauty” is to them, while trying to curb misconceptions that beauty is only about being fair and skinny.
Advertising towards “people of colour” took off in the ’60s and ’70s in America when the advent of black consumerism began to take off.
Marlboro cigarettes, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were some of the famous brands that were directly marketed to the African-American population of the country.
Interestingly, one of the major ad agencies that marketed McDonald’s was owned by a black man, who is now considered a marketing pioneer.
Tom Burrell at the time was at the forefront of McDonald’s immense success, after rolling out adverts which sought to create a hype around the fast-food chain, without offending its target market.
Burrell’s vision for the black market saw product advertising taking a new turn, by ensuring that the product spoke directly to the consumer, and thereby empowering the black consumer and adding to the purchasing power of them.
It is not the first time that Dove completely missed the mark in their advertising. Two years ago, the beauty brand released a body moisturising cream, with the branding on its bottle reading: “For normal to dark skin.”
Following an outcry on social media, Dove quickly responded and removed the product from its shelves.
Prior to that, Dove had previously released an advert which many considered in poor taste, of women in underwear standing side by side, with the black women on the left and the white women on the right, with the captioning “before and after” placed directly above their heads.
Dove, at the time, had said that all three women were meant to depict the before and after benefits of using its skincare lotion.
So why do major companies like Dove get it wrong, when the very values that they embody include standing against racism, colourism, and body shaming?
And how does one try to understand the rationale of punting something which is so blatantly derogatory and undermining to so many?
The South African National Civic Organisation has called on South Africans to boycott the purchasing of Dove products, as it is a “racist insult to millions across the globe celebrating black history month”.
“We must not allow companies which are insensitive to cultural diversity and the need to overcome racial prejudices to get off lightly with filmsy apologies,” spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu said.
The advert has received some defence, however, from public figures such as actress Khanyi Mbau who said that people had not seen the ad in its entirety.
“Found the full version of this interesting ad that had the whole world in a rage. Sadly, we all saw the first part of it in a form of a still picture. Now that the full version is out, your thoughts? Personally, I think we all need to chill! Everything has become personal! Seriously people, not everything is about getting the black man!!” she said on Instagram.
It would be unfair to lay the blame for this public relation nightmare squarely at the door of the advertising agencies because someone – anyone – from Dove approved this.
As one of the most prominent beauty brands out there, they have failed every single woman the world over, especially taking into account their campaigns surrounding self-love and natural beauty.
The Dove “Self-Esteem Project” is meant to “ensure that the next generation grows up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look” – but how are they meant to do that when they are told that the goal in life is to attain a lighter skin.
After the debacle, Dove tweeted that the image posted on Facebook “missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully”. This has been the case for centuries, and no amount of “deeply regretting the offence” is going to change that.
Dove needs to reassess its marketing so that it aligns fully with their “diversity of women” campaigns.
The company also needs to ensure that social media is analysed fully before embarking on such campaigns. Three seconds is all it took to bring the company into disrepute. Three seconds is all it took to get a global campaign against them.