Not growing up black but growing up overweight and with hair that frizzed into a wild puff as soon as I stepped out into the St. Louis summer humidity no matter how long I spent blow-drying and ironing it, the first thing I noticed when I saw the “Before” and “After” images in this ad for Dove Visiblecare Crème Body Wash, is that it went from fat to thin, from kinky hair to straight hair.
But the ad is about skin. The copy clearly states: “You’ll see visibly more beautiful skin in just one week;” from “Before to After;” from “Bad to Good.”
And, if you match the copy with the visual image of the ad (which is generally the intent with an ad), from African-American, to presumably Hispanic, to Caucasian. From “Black to White.”
It doesn’t surprise me that Donna Stringer, Ph.D. Founder Emeritus of Executive Diversity Services, and the person who sent me the ad (I saw it firsthand in People Magazine this week as well) would be magnanimous, drawing on a top rule of the engagement and inclusion curricula she developed: Assume Positive Intent. But that rule is followed by another tenet: Intent does not equal impact.
“While I doubt this was intentional (or even conscious), I find the implicit racism of perfection going from dark to light skin highly offensive.”
Giving the benefit of the doubt, it probably was unconscious. But that’s some pretty potent unconscious bias. And therein lies the problem with unconscious bias. It’s a natural phenomenon. That’s why having a diverse team to begin with makes the difference.
Is the Doctor old and White, the patient female or a person of color? Is the teacher the white man, helping the students of color? Who is the Janitor? Which student is characterized with the learning disability?
The thing with multicultural marketing is that you can’t just check off race, ethnicity or cultural markers and assume you’ve done the ad well. You have to look at what the people are doing in the ads—the roles they are playing and how people are placed in relation to one another…that’s where the unconscious bias can creep (or explode) in.
P.S. Donna does invite all who were equally offended to send a personal note, you can find the address at the bottom of this page, and send something like:
I was recently sent a copy of a Dove Visible care ad from a magazine with before and after pictures: the before is a black woman with a wall-sized picture of cracked skin behind her; the after is a white woman with a wall-sized screen of clear skin behind her. While I suspect there was no ill-intent, the subtle message that perfect (white) skin is the ultimate goal of using Dove offends me. This message is inconsistent with your stated goals regarding self esteem. I will not be using Dove until I know you have recalled this ad and will ask my friends to take the same action. Thank you for any information you can provide me about the development, distribution, and recall of this ad.