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Hello, Dove? It's 2017

HOW TO GET IT WRONG: Dove's offensive campaign

OVER THE last few days, you’d need to have been off-planet not to have seen or heard about the disgraceful Facebook GIF published by one of Unilever's prime brands, Dove.

The moving image used to promote their Body Wash shows a black woman taking off a brown t-shirt to reveal a white woman in a white t-shirt. The only possible implication of such an advert is that this body wash will make you white, and white is clean, and black is dirty.

Now before the inevitable cries of over-sensitivity, even the BBC breakfast announcers looked on with absolute incredulity as they ran the story. Their comments over and over were in the vein of, 'How could this possibly be seen as acceptable?' and 'How did this make production?'.

So, this morning Unilever execs are running around frantically trying to answer that final question. Just how could such an advert get the green light and make it into the public domain?

Companies like Unilever have made much of racial diversity. Don’t forget, this is not the first time that beauty and skincare campaigns have fallen at such a simple hurdle. Earlier this year Nivea created the slogan, ‘White is Purity’, a strapline the KKK would be proud of. In fact, an white supremacist group even posted the following comment on the company’s Facebook page:

“We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I’m glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity.”


And let’s not forget that back in 2011 Dove produced another advert which placed three women on a colour gradient with the black woman under a sign labelled ‘before’ and a white woman under the word ‘after'.

So, why do companies of this size and nature, who publicly claim to be trying to attract black customers make such monumental mistakes? I think I know the answer.

Let’s begin with the poor lass in the doomed advert. The first question I asked was how she could do such an advert? Simple really. Money and a lack of alternatives. Not making excuses for her as I don’t know her, but I’m going to assume that the need to pay bills overrode her ability to say no.

That said there are several much more considered steps which must have taken place before the job got to her, I'm guessing. First, someone had the idea. Then they probably pitched it to a marketing team, mock-ups would have been made before said mock-ups were approved and sent to production - I'm making educated guesses here. Hundreds if not thousands of pictures would have been taken, viewed and finally approved, no doubt. Then and only then would the marketing head be asked to give the final nod, or something like that. These steps in the production process are in place for all large companies to protect their brands from the very fallout which Dove is now enduring.

So what happened? I think there are two main factors which went wrong and will continue to go wrong until the UK accepts that it has a race issue. Firstly the low proportion of black people at decision-making levels in most UK businesses. Secondly, the limitations surrounding the type of black person which white companies see as employable.


The solution to this is simple. Unilever and all companies need to recognise that racism is deeply rooted in the white mind. Understand what I’m saying, many don’t even know they are racist until they are told, until something is held up in front of them as starkly as this advert has now been. That is one of the key attributes of white supremacy. Even your kindly white neighbour who would never intentionally harm you is infected by racism and does not know. And why should they, it does not affect them in any way? Few know this, and even fewer know how to deal with it.

So what role could a black marketing executive have played? Little, if they are deep within their 'sunken place'. To raise your hand in a marketing meeting and say, 'Guys, that’s racist' requires the black exec to not just be woke, but also willing to accept possible unemployment or at least isolation. And so, some black people just let things slide. And that is even assuming that a woke black person would be in a position of influence in the first place. Such people often get spotted early days and are isolated or fired.

Dove has apologised.

For me, that is not enough. What would be enough is a root and branch investigation into the entire creative process which created and greenlit a racist advert and then action taken against all guilty parties.

So as we boycott Dove, let's also require them to fix their broken system.

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