The Public’s Lost Love with Dove

Dove, the brand of women, sensitivity, strength and inclusiveness. Dove has spent over a decade achieving through their ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. Real women and real ideals are concepts coined by Dove to encourage us to embrace our natural selves and get rid of the stigma in society telling us how we should look.

Yet in a three second video posted to their US Facebook page, their carefully constructed image was shattered. Featuring a black woman removing her t-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath, the marked ‘racist’ ad had the hashtag #BoycottDove trending within hours of its release. The image of acceptance of all shapes, sizes and colour is now in the firing line with angry consumers calling Dove out on social media for the unacceptable and racist nature to the advertisement.

“The backlash succeeds in highlighting consumer power”

Dove, owned by Unilever, a company that too strives to promote equality, quickly removed the ad and apologized; writing on Twitter, “An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offence it caused.” Which may be the case, but this misrepresentation did more than ‘miss the mark’ and not for the first time.

They have been criticised on numerous occasions in the past for similar PR disasters – in 2011, their “Visiblecare Body Wash” showcased a ‘before’ picture of a woman of colour, and an ‘after’ image of a white woman; the slogan of “Visibly more beautiful skin” plastered across the poster. In 2012, their ‘Summer Glow Lotion’ labelled with “Normal to Dark Skin” created rife on Twitter, many people saying how plainly wrong the packaging is. A gross oversight from Dove.
So, when the brand release statements claiming diversity is “something Dove is passionate about and is to [their] core beliefs” – as we’ve all heard before – it’s no wonder, that it’s hard to swallow.

In their defense, the company has held their hands up and said “[It] was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong.”

The backlash succeeds in highlighting consumer power and the pace in which a brand can become public enemy number one: something that continues to crop up as people fight for just representation for all. The recent Pepsi advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner was a shining example of this; the public won’t put up with ignorance anymore. Those days are gone.

Lola Ogenyemi, the black model featured in the ad spoke out about the campaign and sought to defend Dove in an essay to The Guardian. Explaining that “If I had the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior…I would have been the first to say an emphatic no.”. Adding, “all of the women on the shoot understood the concept” and that it is “something that goes against everything I stand for.”

But 2017 has seen such advancement in representation of the diversity of women in the beauty industry: the release of Fenty Beauty, influential figures like Munroe Bergdorf after her racial controversy with L’Oreal, Youtubers such as Nyma Tang – all of these movements are advancing representation; all of these women pioneers for real beauty. All the more reason why Dove cannot continue to claim this feat of inclusiveness if they proceed to release campaigns that offend women instead of empowering them.

Beth Potter

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Image courtesy of Skeyndor via Flickr. License here.


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