Dove lost more than just a mark

by Pamela Maringa

“Let me just take a shower and wash my dirty black skin colour away.” That’s the impression I got when I saw the latest Dove body wash advertisement.

I have used Dove cosmetics for years and they have become my personal favourite. They moisturise my skin, make it smooth and leave it feeling amazingly refreshed. I have also introduced Dove products to some of my friends.

Dove USA made headlines last week when it released a short video clip on Facebook. A woman turns white after using the Dove product. This is shown by a picture of a black woman taking off her brown T-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath. Then the white woman turns Asian. The incident has caused an uproar in social media. People from all around the world are calling the company racist. Dove later released a statement of apology saying that “it has missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully.” However, the apology didn’t make any impact, instead it did more damage.

Dove also said that its aim was to demonstrate women from different racial groups. My concern is that the sequence of pictures shows a black woman turning white. Why wasn’t it done the other way around? Dove products are sold internationally. If they say they wanted to demonstrate all women, then what about other racial groups? The world doesn’t only have three racial groups. To me the pictures says something other than what the advertiser intended. I see a clear, careless misrepresentation of their audience.

As a black South African woman who uses Dove, I am very disappointed and offended by their marketing strategy. This advertisement implies that my black skin is not beautiful and washing with Dove will make it clean, that is to say “white”. They are associating cleanliness with whiteness and dirt with blackness. I have decided not to support Dove anymore. I cannot continue to support a brand that does not see me as a person of colour. My skin is perfect in its colour.

I’ve studied marketing and I know that in advertising the process of approving an advertisement for broadcasting purposes is very long. The process involves a lot of people looking at every inch of the product, the message, visuals and audience. How is it possible that during that process no one saw that there was something wrong with that advertisement? The question is, how did this advertisement get to the broadcasting stage with such offensive content?

The Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, tweeted that is not the first time Dove has been caught up in some racist controversy due to their advertising. This seems to show no respect to me as their customer. If I continue to support them, they will continue to disrespect me and many other black people.

I honestly think this speaks to a much bigger issue. There has to be a change of attitude on a global scale. This debacle illustrates how far we still have to go when it comes to dealing with racism worldwide. The reaction the advertisement received shows clearly just how sensitive people are because of their past experiences of racial divisions. It is imperative that marketing companies show some level of sensitivity towards other races and cultures, and that all races are treated equally.

Ms Pamela Maringa
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