All This Soap, and the Industry Still Can't Clean Up Its Act




Over the weekend, a digital Dove ad caused quite the stir when screenshots of the ad made it appear that by using the soap one could transform from Black to White. Although most people (myself included) failed to see the ad in its entirety, it faced much backlash and was quickly removed by the brand. 


Through a quick Twitter search, I found the entire ad: a five-second video featuring three women of three different ethnicities removing their shirts to reveal the next woman. 

Looking at the entire ad, I see the message they were intended to communicate.  Using the same shapeshifting trope Micheal Jackson used in his 1991 "Black or White" music video.  While I don't believe the ad was malicious or ill-intentioned, as a Black woman I do see an oversight.

Much of media from 20 years ago did not age well. I watch movies and listen to music that was lauded when I was a kid and cringe at how problematic they would be in today's time. So even though the King of Pop used the same device to relay a lighthearted message of equality, togetherness, and humanity; in today's cultural and political climate, anytime you show a Black woman appearing to become lighter in any sense, it's a no. 


The backlash Dove faced isn't solely based on the ad, it also stems from the historical context Black people have seen over the years from soap washing away your color to make you a clean, presentable White person. Now, I don't know what the Dove team who created the Facebook ad looks like, so I won't critique that the team isn't diverse enough. However, as an industry, we must make it a priority to create teams that are just as inclusive as they are diverse. Creatives of color and underrepresented groups must feel empowered to speak up about potentially offensive, insensitive, and harmful work before it goes to market. We'll continue to create expensive mistakes and dangerous work that misrepresents people in the media that ultimately damages the brand until we truly foster an industry that values diversity and inclusiveness.


In the world of screenshots, memes, and short-attention spans, all of our work must be intentional. We must anticipate what would happen if our work landed in our consumer's hands.  We must be strategic and authentic in the stories we tell and the images we show. Our work can be given a second life with a clever meme (hi Kermit.) Or it can make our clients look racist. Let's shoot for the former.