About that Dove ad: Stop Telling Me When I’m Allowed to be Offended


“Did you hear about Dove?”

I’d hardly looked at my phone all day when a couple of people messaged me asking my thoughts about the “Dove incident.” My daughter was just coming out of nearly six hours of cheer practice and I had no idea what my friends were talking about. A quick Google search brought me up to speed. The now infamous still shot of a black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman. I couldn’t believe it. No, I mean I really couldn’t. How could they do this? Or at the very least, how could they miss this?

Dove had already issued their first apology and pulled the ad. But I searched and discovered the “full” 3 second GIF ad that revealed the black woman changing to a white woman, then changing to a Middle Eastern woman. My confusion was brought down a notch, but not completely.

If you’ve been reading my blog a while you know that Dove is one of my brand partners. I’ve worked with them over the years and supported their Real Beauty campaign. I love Dove, and their products. Yes, some of their ads have come under fire in the past but I felt like they were making great strides. I knew we needed to talk.

I sent a message to one of my Dove contacts politely asking if we could chat. (The next morning I realized that Dove had actually already reached out to me about this, however it went to an old email address).

I mentioned on Facebook that I’d be speaking with Dove the next day and I quickly realized if anything–This whole thing was going to start some tough conversations.

“This isn’t racist.” A couple of my friends stated. “It was a good thing!”

How do you breakdown a lifetime of experiences of inferiority or feelings of hurt in a single Facebook reply? You can’t. And I can’t in a blog post either but I’ll briefly try.

My first memory of someone telling me they didn’t like me because of my skin color was kindergarten. When you’re the only little brown girl in your class things can get hurtful and uncomfortable. This continued on and on through elementary, middle, high school and even occasionally in college. From flat out harsh statements, to jokes, to passive aggressive comments like “you’re so pretty for a black girl.”

Seeing an image of a black girl “transforming” to a white girl in an advertisement for body wash can absolutely be triggering.

With the current racial climate we are in, I think there is a problem when huge organizations are missing big red flags in their advertising. Were there enough diverse voices in the room when they were developing the concept for the ad? Did they think this would fly? Should they have run this by more people? These were some of the questions I planned to ask.

When I got on the phone with Dove I fully expected them to come out of the gate with excuses defending an intended message. There was none of that. The first thing I heard was “We are deeply, deeply sorry…” There was no “What we were trying to say was…” but a promise that they are working on an action plan to ensure that something so offensive won’t happen again.

They told me they’d be issuing another official apology and following up soon with updates on their next steps to organize and meet with the highest levels of management to make things right. It’s just the beginning. I may be giving them the benefit of the doubt but I’m planning to hold them to it. As we all should. And as they expect us to.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself that you have no idea how this got to the proportions that it has, let me challenge you to think of this from a different perspective. The question isn’t always whether or not you found something offensive. Or whether or not you think someone should. Did one of your friends? Have you stopped to ask why and listened to hear their answer? Not just waited for an opportunity to give your reply, but really listened?

We should be trying to listen to those who are hurt and not just write them off as being “too easily offended.” That attitude is part of the reason why we keep coming back to these conversations over and over.

Was I personally offended? Honestly, no. But I would not show an advertisement like that to my daughter who may see that image in a completely different way. And it breaks my heart to think some little girl like her absolutely could have.

Dove may have made a mistake, and they apologized immediately. They’re promising to do better and they expect us to continue to hold them to a high standard. I respect that. A lot.

Now it’s our job to hold them accountable. And while we’re at it, use these opportunities to listen and learn from one another.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I’m still flabbergasted that no one at Dove saw the potential hurtfulness and insensitivity of this ad. I read several comments claiming that seeing the whole thing where the other two women were included made it make more sense, but I didn’t feel like that changed it at all. Hopefully they really will learn from this and do better in the future.

  2. I get the message that they were trying to say with the ad in its entirety, but at the same time, I can understand how it could be hurtful to others. Thank you for your view on this Jennifer, I am not offended but can see why others would be.

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