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Dove drops ad after it draws criticism for being racist

The outcry to the ad was swift and brutal, forcing the company to apologise

Maggie Astor | NYT 

Dove ad
The Dove ad raised a furore online and has since been removed. Photo: New York Times

In a Facebook ad for body wash, a black woman removes her brown shirt and voilà! Underneath is a white woman in a light shirt.
But the transition from the black woman to the white women—compiled into a static collage by a social media user—evoked a long-running racist trope in soap advertising: a “dirty” black person cleansed into whiteness. (Among other examples was an ad by the N K Fairbank Company, which was in business from 1875 to 1921, that featured a white child asking a black child, “Why doesn’t your mamma wash you with Fairy soap?”)

The outcry to the ad, which was posted last week, was swift, with many social media users wondering how it could have made it through multiple layers of review.
On Saturday, Dove—owned by Unilever—apologised, writing on Facebook: “is committed to representing the beauty of diversity. In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of colour and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused.”
Marissa Solan, a spokeswoman for Dove, said on Sunday that the GIF “was intended to convey that Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and, as a result, offended many people.”
She added that had removed the post and was “re-evaluating our internal processes for creating and reviewing content.” She declined to say how many people reviewed the ad or whether any of them were African-American.
Critics were unimpressed by the company’s apology. “What was the mark?” the Facebook user Ariel Macklin wrote in a comment that was liked more than 1,100 times. “I mean anyone with eyes can see how offensive this is. Not one person on your staff objected to this? Wow. Will not be buying your products anymore.”
Dove’s ad was not an isolated case by one company, but the latest in a long line of tone-deaf ads by many Here are a few examples from the past.
Intel, July 2007
A 2007 ad for Intel’s new processor showed a white man surrounded by six black sprinters bent over in starting poses. “Multiply computing performance and maximize the power of your employees,” the text read. Intel said its intent “was to convey the performance capabilities of our processors through the visual metaphor of a sprinter,” but acknowledged, “Unfortunately, our execution did not deliver our intended message and in fact proved to be insensitive and insulting.”
Dove, May 2011
In 2011, was criticised for another ad: this one showing three women standing side by side, each with lighter skin than the woman next to her. Behind them were signs reading “before” and “after”; the “before” sign, positioned behind an African-American woman, showed cracked skin, while the “after” sign, behind a white woman, showed smooth skin. “Visibly more beautiful skin,” the ad read.
Edelman, the public relations company representing Dove, said in a statement to Gawker: “All three women are intended to demonstrate the ‘after’ product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.”
The fact that the most recent ad was Dove’s second to cause offense was not lost on social media users.
Popchips, May 2012
Popchips drew fire in 2012 for an ad in which Ashton Kutcher played several characters – including a Bollywood producer named Raj, complete with brownface and an Indian accent.
Popchips initially urged viewers to watch the ad in the humourous “spirit it was intended.” Later, its chief executive, Keith Belling, said in a statement: “Our team worked hard to create a lighthearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs. We did not intend to offend anyone. I take full responsibility and apologise to anyone we offended.”
Qiaobi, May 2016
In a 2016 commercial for the Chinese company Qiaobi’s laundry detergent, an Asian woman shoves a detergent pod into a black man’s mouth and puts him in a washing machine, from which he emerges as a light-skinned Asian.
A spokeswoman for Qiaobi, Xu Chunyan, was unapologetic. “We did this for some sensational effect,” she said at the time. “If we just show laundry like all the other advertisements, ours will not stand out.”
Nivea, April 2017
In April, the skin care company released a deodorant ad that read, “White is purity.” White supremacists on the internet took note, with one (4chan) user writing, “has chosen our side.”
A representative of Nivea’s parent company, Beiersdorf, said it had “never intended to hurt anybody or to raise any wrong interpretation.” 
©2017 The New York Times Service

First Published: Mon, October 09 2017. 21:32 IST