Oct 26, 2017

Shame on Dove or shame on us ?

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So over the weekend, Dove, the so called ‘all women’s beauty brand’ did this:

Unilever, Dove’s parent company swiftly apologised, when the Facebook ad was decried as racist in a social-media backlash that began Friday afternoon. The brand’s apology has been met mostly with derision since it was issued Saturday, including threats of boycotts and questions about how the ad could have been approved in the first place.

The body wash ad showed a black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman underneath. The backlash began Friday when makeup artist and online beauty products retailer Naomi Leann Blake(@NaytheMua) posted images from the ad on her Facebook news feed.

By Saturday, amid growing social-media criticism, Dove issued its apology.

It’s unclear who created the ad (and frankly, who cares?). Ogilvy & Mather handles much of the brand’s creative work, but Unilever also has moved considerable work, particularly for quick-turnaround digital ads, in house to its U Studios.

In its statement on Twitter and Facebook, Dove said: “An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused.”


A statement for Dove from its PR shop Edelman says: “As a part of a campaign for Dove Body Wash, a 3-second video clip was posted to the U.S. Facebook page. This did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened. We have removed the post and have not published any other related content. We apologize deeply and sincerely for the offense that it has caused and do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience.”

A Facebook conversation posted by Blake on Friday afternoon appears to shed more light on the “what were they thinking?” question.

“The content featured demonstrates the benefits of our Dove Body Wash for every type of skin,” the brand said in a message to Blake. “It offers 100% gentle cleansers, is sulfate free, and is #1 Dermatologist recommended. We are committed to representing beauty of all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes and to listen to all women’s needs to create great products.”

(Blah blah blah … a convenient marketing spiel)

So here’s the catch.

They’re many decrying the advert and rightly so, but is it shame on Dove or shame on us? For believing that brands, and the brand managers who make the decisions to push out such racist ads, really care about the black/African experience? Because, my friends they don’t.

How do I know? I’ve worked for them. I’ve been involved in mega brands and their campaigns that are tightly controlled from the top down. And I’ve felt powerless to ensure my African background is represented. Why? Because I was not a decision maker or influencer at that time.

Big brands, especially beauty brands, often pander to the message of diversity and multi ethnicities, yet they don’t reflect those ‘heartfelt’ thoughts in their choice of advertising material, models, staff and worse still in their leadership teams. Until we have African and African Americana women and men represented at board levels and in the leadership of these businesses, we will not see change.

That’s why the appointment of people like Ghanian born Edward Enninful as the new editor-in-chief of British Vogue and Kenyan/Carribbean Vanessa Kingori as new publishing director of British Vogue is powerful, and hopefully a game changer in the industry.


Edward Enninful

That said, change from the few African/black leaders in their field will take time.

So what can we do in the meantime?

The obvious is that we can protest racism when we see it. However it’s a known fact that the black voice is now being largely ignored by those who believe all we’re making is noise in an empty tin can i.e. we’re shouting but very few are listening.

This is not to say protesting does not work. The American Civil rights Movement was highly successful in its day – the stark difference between it and the protest of today is the strategic longterm planning that was put behind it including the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, in 1955.  Local organisers bided their time, slowly planning, structuring, and casting what amounted to a work of public theatre, and then built new structures as their plans changed.

However in the digital age, protests are conducted  via hashtags on Twitter or WhatsApp messages, gathering crowds through tweets, reaching thousands in seconds and updating them in milliseconds. Without plans and structures, these online protests tend to be “organisationally toothless, good at barking at power but bad at forcing ultimatums or chewing through complex negotiations.” Thus their weakness.


Vanessa Kingori

So how can we go beyond the protest, the outrage and the bended knee?

We can shift our buying dollar to brands that care about and champion diversity – buy more black and African brands – and they’re many out there today with amazing skincare products. I’d love to see a ‘BLACK $$ BOYCOTT’ annual day or week where brands that have negatively impacted African/black people that year are blacklisted and not ‘bought’ from. In order to make a difference we’ve got to hit them where it hurts. Their wallets.

We can insist on the companies we buy from implementing a culture of cross-training and nurturing. Not my words but those of Vanessa Kingori who’s a veteran at championing diversity after successfully implementing it at British GQ Magazine.

She goes on to say that those with businesses or already in leadership should also hire people with diverse backgrounds that may represent different audiences so we’re coming up with creative concepts / products and ideas that represent a diverse voice.

We can protest strategically. Black Lives Matter is one example of a protest that’s making a difference little by little – because it is well planned out and has a network of community support that is consciously making a difference and advocating for change in the long haul.

If we don’t or won’t implement impactful solutions to address racism in the world we live in, over and above protesting when we see it at play, then it’s shame on us.


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Fashion News /Actualités

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