What was the mark, Dove?

Media coverage is intense on the stumble by Dove with its Facebook ad showing a black woman morphing into a white woman by using Dove body wash.

Dove has pulled the ad from Facebook, apologizing that it “missed the mark” with the ad.


I’ll add my voice to the chorus of those commenters who asked, “Just what was the mark they were aiming at?” Any way you look at the ad, it appears to be saying a black woman can become “white” simply by using Dove products. How is that an appropriate message?

Having worked in an advertising agency for 20 years and as an independent ad consulting for another dozen years, I’m always taken aback when ads such as these go public seemingly without anyone in the chain of approval having seen it or commanded either the Marketing Department and/or its ad agency to put on the brakes.

Ads just don’t spring fully created from either an internal department or ad agency and magically make their way into digital or traditional media. Although time constraints may shorten the process, it generally works like this:

  • marketing/sales meets with ad creatives, either internal or agency, to discuss the product, strategy, goals, target audience, media, etc. (the creative brief)
  • ad creatives develop an ad or campaign that responds to the brief
  • ad is presented for client/management approval
  • ad may be altered, corrected or reworked entirely for a subsequent re-approval
  • ad is produced, shown in final form to client
  • ad is delivered to media

Wouldn’t you think that someone in this chain would question the ad? Was everyone sleeping when it went by?

I think Dove has done some commendable work with its Real Beauty campaign, begun in 2004, by using “real-world” women instead of professional models. Part of that campaign was the Real Beauty Sketches, showing that women tend to be more self-critical about their appearance than even strangers who’ve just met them. While the entire Real Beauty campaign has its critics — taking Dove to task for how it defines beauty to the campaign being hypocritical because Dove parent firm Unilever also makes Axe — I think the campaign is an overall plus.

That’s why I’m finding this latest Dove effort distressing. It threatens to unravel any good that the Real Beauty campaign may have done. And it should have been stopped before it got anywhere near publication.

Confronted with the many commenters vowing never to use Dove products again, can the company repair the damage? We’ll see how good they are at crisis management.

Additional note: although I can’t confirm the authenticity, one of the commenters on the Dove Facebook apology posted a YouTube video (see below) of what purports to be the “full” ad, which includes a third white model morphing from the second white model. It gives the ad some further context, but the order of the models — black to white — is still a problem.


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