Dove tries to apologize for racist ad featuring black woman turning white

This is what we’ve come to as a nation and as a society. We’ve come to a point where an entire advertising and presumably executive team from an international company approved an ad that has blatantly racist imagery. Then, after people pointed out that the ad was racist, the company apologized “for the offense it caused.” This is from Dove, the company that touts diversity in their commercials and print ads, often with tear-jerking personal stories, commentary on unrealistic beauty standards, and featuring everyday women of all body shapes and backgrounds. Remember some of the ads that Dove has run through the years underlining this point and trying to appeal to all women? Well this time they really stepped in it. They posted a gif of an ad on their social media featuring an African-American woman lifting up her (brown) shirt to reveal a white woman in a white shirt. After that, the white woman turned into an Latina woman. People were of course outraged and asked Dove for clarification. They initially posted a tweet that the ad “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully ” and added that they “deeply regret the offense it caused.” They’ve finally offered a longer apology, but it sounds weak to me.

“As a part of a campaign for Dove Body Wash, a 3-second video clip was posted to the US Facebook page which featured three women of different ethnicities, each removing a t-shirt to reveal the next woman. The short video was intended to convey that Dove Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong. It 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 related content. This should not have happened and we are re-evaluating our internal processes for creating and approving content to prevent us making this type of mistake in future. We apologize deeply and sincerely for the offense that it has caused and do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience.”

[From US Magazine]

Did you see the words “racist” or “discrimination” anywhere? This apology could have been so much stronger. How about something like “We’re horrified that this ad had racist imagery and while that was not our intent we see how the final result was racist. Dove is committed to diversity and stands against racism and discrimination. We will work harder to ensure that we don’t make such a glaring and deeply offensive error in the future. We’re truly sorry that this happened and we will work to ensure that we have more diversity at all levels of our creative and decision making process.” There you go. None of that “we’re sorry that you took offense” crap. NO. Just say “WE WERE OFFENSIVE, THIS WAS RACIST.” They “do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience” because they don’t want people to stop buying what they’re selling. They should have admitted this had racist imagery but they won’t do that because they think it’s other people’s fault for being offended and that it was a specific audience that was insulted.

You know who did a commercial for Dove earlier this year? Shonda Rhimes. She made an ad featuring Cathleen Meredith of Fat Girls Dance. Rhimes said at the time that she found a natural fit working with Dove because “the fact that they stand for celebrating women in all their forms and empowering women and redefining beauty felt in tune, not just with how I live my life, but how I do my work.” Rhimes has not tweeted or Instagrammed about this as of press time.

In related news, the model featured first in the “before” section, Nigerian-born Lola Ogunyemi, says that the ad is being taken out of context, that the gif circulated comes from a longer commercial, and that she never felt uncomfortable on set. You can read her comments here

Here’s the gif, it’s in this video

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58 Responses to “Dove tries to apologize for racist ad featuring black woman turning white”

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  1. Indiana Joanna says:

    I never saw the ad but can see from the post that it is truly bizzare and disgusting.

    • Maggie says:

      I’m so over this clickbait-race bait era of advertising and then the faux apology.
      They knew exactly what they were doing.
      First by only releasing the one image of the black woman and white woman and waiting for a reaction, not explaining anything, then when people start getting outraged they go “huh who me? Silly people, look here we have the whole video which explains everything, you are overreacting”.
      This is yet another attack on black women. Seems very profitable.
      Want to be an ally? Stop supporting dove, dont buy dove products or unilever products.

      • Nicole says:

        Yeppppp. Also not the first racist dove ad.
        This ad had to make it through countless people to get approved.
        So yea they can shove it

      • bros says:

        i also agree they can’t be this stupid. I dont have any problem with women taking off their shirts to reveal another type of woman underneath ad naseum until a little shriveled wizard appears. In this ad, the white one took off her shirt to reveal another woman under it, but the outrage machine had already freeze-framed it. Dove should have the good sense to not have the black one go first because people will inevitably cry foul and have a problem with it. Have the asian go first and have her turn into a black woman and then the black woman turn into a white woman or something. switch the essentialization up for us all a little bit. and on the other one, flip the before and after so the f’ed up skin is next to the white lady! she’s the beneficiary of systemic racism and white privlege, so she can stand next to the shitty dry skin before picture, for pete’s sake!

        I’m halfway joking here-I have a problem with dove needing to perform diversity so tone deaf-ly and so remedially by trotting out all the shades and all the races and making sure they all get a part to play in their ads. that should annoy people more than what order they got put in. people get mad when their identity politics aren’t served up the right way. why are we doing that in the first place.

    • Moe says:

      no doubt about it. it was a terrible ad. but dove generally seems like a pretty good company that has tried to (gently msybe) change the conversation about beauty and to include a diverse range of women in it’s ads including older women and women of colour and non twiggy women. let’s hope they can chalk this up to some woeful bad decision that they’ll learn from in the future.

  2. SlightlyAnonny says:

    Never forget that Unilever, Dove’s parent company, owns Fair & Lovely, a bleaching cream that is extremely popular in South Asia. A brand that consistently puts out ads equating whiteness/lightness with good and brown/darkness with bad. Someone from the global ad group switched accounts and wasn’t informed that that crap doesn’t fly in America but that it’s perfectly okay in South Asia. Dove is crap.

    • Clare says:

      Many of the drugstore brands we buy (Olay, Loreal) feature ‘whitening’ creams as part of their range in places like South Asia/Middle East. In fact I think the Loreal line is called ‘Perfect White’.

      I know that there have been MANY times in my career – especially when I was much younger – when I have held my tongue because I felt intimidated or like I wouldn’t have enough support for my POV to count.

    • Moe says:

      god. I didn’t know this. maybe I should revise my first comment. the name of that cream is so depressing.

      • CharlotteCharlotte says:

        Unilever are also terrible with their palm oil. They don’t use sustainable palm oil at all, so they’re guilty of aiding the distinction of orang-utans and deforestation.

    • Meg says:

      Also, they are some of the worst in terms of scale of the animal testing they do. People should explore cruelty-free alternatives for their products. There’s a great site here for what you can find at the drugstore:

  3. Sam Lewis says:

    For what it’s worth, in the full commercial the white lady changes her shirt to then switch to a Latina woman. The shirts simply match their skin tone and they’re cycling through the a series of women. Dismiss that if you so wish, but the ad in context is not racist in the slightest. It’s literally just this still image that makes it look like a scandal. Seriously, look up the full commercial. It’s like every other boring Dove commercial that’s ever existed: Women with different skin tones enjoying Dove’s product.

    • jc126 says:

      I figured that was the case. Ridiculous.

    • Zip says:

      ITA. The still image is stupid, however the whole ad is not.

    • bros says:

      this is what I’m pretty much saying in my previous comment. Dove’s stupidly obsessed with tokenism parading as their commitment to diversity. If they don’t hit every identity marker in the ad (oversimplified and essentialized as skin tone) theyve failed to be inclusive. and instead of people seeing this silly pandering for what it is, we are mad about the order of the stupid tokenism (black turning into white) whereas the whole ad is dumb and so 90’s and lame, skin tones and whatever the F else. still having this dumb debate about Princess Jasmine in the new disney movie not being a dark enough south asian for some people’s expert essentialism.

    • Kitten says:

      Hmmmm…yeah that could change it a bit but still, WHY was this particular image right here ever created much less featured on social media? Conceptually, this photo taken out of its larger context, IS racist imagery–there’s no getting away from that.

      That would apply to many ads I’m sure: if I zoomed in and cropped out only one part of an ad instead of showing it in its entirety, that ad has the potential to become something else that is offensive/problematic. They changed the original message of the ad when they isolated this photo from the larger context.

    • V4Real says:

      @Sam, right. Had the White woman gone first nothing would have been said. Then again they would have probably had a problem with the White woman going before the Black woman. Not everything is meant to be racist but this day and age makes people react as if everything is.

      They only picked that part but said nothing of the White woman turning Latino. We are living in the Divided States of America but us non-racist are not helping by crying wolf over every little thing that has to do with Black and White.

    • Megan says:

      If that is the case, they need to get into the 21st century and learn how social media works because the still screams racism.

    • Ksenia says:

      Yes, out of context–w just the still photos of the black woman turning to a white one–this ad is outrageously racist. However, the whole, moving video w all 3 women is not racist, just sort of stupid, w the white woman turning Latina at the end—to represent how women of *all* colors/backgrounds can use the soap. If it had just been black woman to white woman, w white seemingly representing “clean”, it would be different–but that’s NOT what the ad seeks to symbolize w the women of three skin shades. I’m assuming the author of this article saw the whole ad, and am not sure why she used it in still frame as an example of racism. There is so much REAL racism out there to focus on, why be diverted by something innocuous?

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you! Dare I say that all of my friends of color were flabbergasted this was being called racist? I don’t want to be that person who says, “Oh, my black friend said..” but you know what? ALL of my friends of color found no issue with the full commercial. However, much like Lola Ogunyemi, the .gif has circulated and can easily be taken out of context.

  4. Justjj says:

    I’m not sure where the target market for this ad was, and yes it’s gross, but unfortunately this imagery is very common all over east Asia where skin whitening products are a main staple of the beauty market. It’s sad and shocking, but when I was in SE Asia, I saw ads such as this all the time by lots of huge brand names.

  5. HelloSunshine says:

    Yea idk about this. I don’t think the ad was malicious, just not well thought out. The full ad, not just the portion someone turned into a gif, features the white woman taking off her shirt and reveals a Latina woman.

  6. Lindy says:

    How in 2017 does something like this get produced and distributed? I mean… How did NO ONE at Dove reviewing this ad at any stage of the process not say, “Hey y’all… This is problematic?”

    I’m not in marketing but have been involved in some aspects of my companies advertising strategies and production as one of a dozen+ reviewers. So I’m just scratching my head trying to understand how no one raises a red flag about this racist BS.

    • Clare says:

      I’d assume a majority of the people signing this shit off were either white or men…so lacking points of reference as to why this is problematic.
      I’d also assume that the few non white people in the room were probably not in a position where they felt they COULD raise the issue and be supported.

  7. TyrantDestroyed says:

    So many talented marketing professionals I know are struggling to find a job and yet these people are somehow keeping their jobs by producing these lazy and disgusting campaigns. I just don’t get it.

    • Nanny to the Rescue says:

      Actually, this isn’t lazy. It’s deliberate and it creates more buzz than a safe add ever would. The still photo or gif makes it look racist, but the whole commercial is more in the style of Michael Jackson’s Black or White video, so they can just say later that it’s not racist at all. This isn’t a mistake, this is a strategy.

      It’s just sad that we’ve come to the times where this seems to be *the* marketing tool for many companies. They don’t care real people get hurt in the process.

  8. MMC says:

    Sounds like they were trying to do something like the Michael Jackson Black or White video and, at least from the cuts that made it to the public, was a major fail.

  9. Ceire says:

    I read the article in The Guardian by Lola Ogunyemi before I saw the actual ad, so I that may have coloured my opinion, but I didn’t initially think the ad was racist. Nevertheless, I can see that the image of a Black Woman changing into a White woman is offensive, and I am glad the Dove pulled the ad.

  10. HK9 says:

    They’ve been in this situation before. It’s not about being ‘malicious’ it’s about not taking this issue seriously enough to say, this particular series of visuals isn’t the best and can give a wrong impression. It’s clear they don’t have a corporate culture that can deal with this issue and they don’t care.

    • Maggie says:

      No, they are doing it for publicity. These things bring in the eyeballs and also is a dog whistle, plus it has the added benefit of upsetting certain people. I see it as an attack, a spiritual attack as silly as that sounds but it is aimed at black women and killing spirits. It’s psychological warfare and it works.

      • HK9 says:

        It’s an awful way to get publicity though. It is a dog whistle and I just can’t get my head around how they could think this could be ok after being called out for previous ads. Saying it’s a spiritual attack is not silly-it deals with the real emotional impact this crap has on WOC. I’m a black woman and it’s not killing my spirit, it’s motivating me to get people to wake up and stop with this sh-t.

  11. Enough Already says:

    Before anyone starts complaining about cancelling for no reason or the PC brigade in action please know that Dove has been called out for this several times before this ad. As a woc I’m the one who’s tired of being cancelled 🙁

  12. Merritt says:

    The ad was completely tone deaf and highlights the problem of not having enough high-ranking WOC at companies involved in the advertising and marketing of the brand.

  13. Fiorucci says:

    Sounds like their ad was not racist in full form. Could have been done on purpose to use the apology for attention. But who needs any of their products anyways? If you have dry body skin, try an oil like coconut oil. Or a brand like Lush, or any good product where less is more. I’ve always assumed their cheap products have parabens and phalates, and are made of water alcohol the cheapest soap ingredients etc nothing special. I hope this controversy makes some people reconsider using this stuff

  14. S says:

    Given that Dove has had about 3 “accidentally” racist ads to apologize for in the past year … It’s not an accident.

    • Moe says:

      y’all will jump on me for saying this but I think one of the reasons dove has been called out before for racist ads is because the company is at least trying to be inclusive but has some times gotten it wrong. there are plenty of beauty companies that don’t try at all and that just stay safe and out off the fray of the conversation because it’s just business as usual. white skinny young beautiful girls selling the same old formula of beauty. no risk to this because its status quo. I think it’s important when a company does try and fail it then tries to do better. but at least they recognise something has to shift. and no I don’t work for dove!

  15. Mew says:

    She transforms further from that. But they probably should have at least done that the other way around..or come up with another idea. This ain’t the first time they screw up.

  16. poop says:

    Did you guys SEE the ad? The black woman switches to white then to another race. There are three women. At no point did they say washing with Dove makes the black girl white. What’s most disturbing is how trivializing this is. Get enraged about real race issues.

  17. paranormalgirl says:

    The full commercial.

    I have found Dove ads to be problematic in the past, so I am not giving them a “pass” here per se, as I kind of think the ad is, at best, dumb. There are better methods to show diversity.

  18. littlemissnaughty says:

    How is the ad in its entirety racist? I honestly don’t understand. Yes, that image is not good but we always complain about editing etc. only in this case we’re fine with it? If Dove’s goal was to mislead the customers and create outrage, meaning attention, then I’m over it. But who the hell knows these days.

    • Cbould says:

      Littlemissnaughty, I think in the context of a vacuum the ad is not racist & could be chalked up to accidental imagery. But given the history of colonial powers (British & American) using soap & cleanliness as a metaphor for whiteness, it seems like dog whistle racism to me.

      For example (this language is from a past ad for soap):

      “The first step towards lightening The White Man’s Burden is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. Pears’ Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place — it is the ideal toilet soap.”

      We white people need to know our history so we don’t keep doing the same damn thing. Soap, cleanliness & race have a surprisingly twisted past.

      • Cbould says:

        Also, this:

        SAID Uncle Sam: “I will be wise,
        And thus the Indian civilize:
        Instead of guns, that kill a mile,
        Tobacco, lead, and liquor vile,
        Instead of serving out a meal,
        Or sending Agents out to steal,
        I’ll give, domestic arts to teach,
        A cake of IVORY SOAP to each.
        Before it flies the guilty stain,

        The grease and dirt no more remain;
        ‘Twill change their nature day by day,
        And wash their darkest blots away.
        They’re turn their bows to fishing-rods,
        And bury hatchets under sods,
        In wisdom and in worth increase,
        And ever smoke the pipe of peace;
        For ignorance can never cope
        With such a foe as IVORY SOAP.”

        Surely we can all agree that shit is racist…? Given this historical context, the Dove ad is racism for the modern age, right? That’s what I take it as.

    • detritus says:

      It’s a poorly done ad that feeds into racist tropes, not necessarily ‘on purpose’ racist itself. More racist by accidental idiocy, and unexamined biases, which is pretty unacceptable from a multinational company with the ad budget Dove has.

      There is a lot of discrimination that happens based on skin tone, even taking race out of the equation. Even think of old timey quotes like ‘Mighty white of you’, or ‘playing the white man’, as compliments. As Cbould mentioned, there was a ton of stuff in the 1900s about using soap to wash away the black. As if a darker skin colour was dirty.

      To see a black lady in a beauty add peel off her skin to reveal a lighter ‘more’ beautiful lady (more being used in the sense that this is posed almost as before and after images), that is going to hurt a lot of people who’ve never felt that they were appreciated for their beauty, because it wasn’t white.

      And it begs the question, what unconscious bias do we have that we consistently position the end result as paler? Even in the long form commercial, it ends on a ambiguously ethnic and lighter skinned lady.

  19. happyoften says:

    This commercial is, at best, poorly executed.

    Not the first time they have been scolded for this kind of nonsense, and one would think they could hire someone to view these commercials through a more racially enlightened lense, prior to them being aired. Seriously, it isn’t that hard.

  20. Who ARE These People? says:

    How does this pass all the people that have to see it? Being attuned to perception is EXACTLY what people in marketing and advertising are paid to do. Nuts. “Context” doesn’t matter if even 1/30th of a second can appear racist. Especially when the “context” is a white cleansing soap.
    Don’t have brown women shedding their brown skin to look all white and happy, period. No apology can ever make up for this one.

  21. detritus says:

    Hmmm. So you mean intersectional feminism used as a marketing tool isn’t working out so hot eh?

    This is another no shit from me. When your end goal is cash, and your operating ethos is capitalism, glomming on to a social justice issue isn’t going to jibe well. It’s already a stretch for a ‘beauty’ company, that operates on women feeling the need to ‘fix’ things to jump on this.

    How many women of colour are on the ad executive, do you think? Any?

    Show me your senior management Dove, show me your ad executives. Show me your love of all women there, before you try to sell me this nonsense.

    • j says:

      YES, well said. the three most powerful positions in their board of directors are occupied by white men so. yeah.

  22. Mazzie says:

    If this was the first time, you could possibly give them a pass for a poorly thought-out ad but this is what? The third time they’ve played on race for controversy and media hits? No. No pass.

  23. DiegoInSF says:

    I know, minor point but how is the third woman Asian, she’s clearly Latina! 🤔

  24. Anna says:

    People are crazy and want to be upset, the ad in context was not racist AT ALL. Why people want to be outraged over fake things like this baffles me.

  25. BP says:

    Dove is guilty of racisim. They have always sucked because THEY STILL TEST THEIR PRODUCTS ON ANIMALS.

  26. Wren33 says:

    I mean the ad is dumb and is tokenism and weirdly inserts skin tone into an ad about soap that doesn’t need it, but I honestly think this is a case of internet outrage condemning something before actually watching the whole thing. Now, there are certainly nuanced critiques that could be made about the imagery in the ad, but I really doubt so many people would be making those critiques if this hadn’t first been introduced as an ad featuring “a black woman turning into a white woman after using Dove soap”.

  27. Jams says:

    To everyoe who is NOT BLACK, speaking on outrage…your opinion doesn’t matter on the issue to be honest. Feel free to speak to air about sh*t that doesn’t concern you. Either LISTEN or mind your business.

    *THE ORIGINAL AD, did NOT have the Latina following the white woman.

    These ads have been prevelant in US history (with soap amongst other products) since enslavement of Black American people.

    Not only this…on one of their products CURRENTLY….it reads for “normal to dark skin” as if dark skin is not normal….and to the majority of the world IS normal.

    If you are IGNORANT, be quiet until you do accurate research. Because clearly you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  28. j says:

    why are the women all wearing skin-tone matched shirts? like you can just take your race off? it’s so weird. it gives me all the weirds. don’t forget that dove and axe body spray are made by the same company so…don’t expect much from them.