Thanks to Copyranter for finding this little gem from Dove.
Whether the racism is intentional or not seems irrelevant to anyone who has worked in advertising for more than 5 minutes. The question has to be: How on Earth did this ad ever get through Unilever's research and approval process, and actually run?
According to Gawker, Dove released this statement regarding the controversial ad:
The ad is intended to illustrate the benefits of using Dove VisibleCare Body Wash, by making skin visibly more beautiful in just one week. All three women are intended to demonstrate the "after" product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.
Having worked on Unilever in Asia recently, we find it astounding that the idea was not killed off after the first round of qualitative research, such is the client's sensitivity to anything remotely offensive or negative.
The problem appears to stem from the unfortunate layout which makes the 3 women appear as some sort of skin transformation from dark to light. Had the before/after skin demo been positioned below the headline, and the women rearranged into a non-tonal sequence, no-one would have been bothered.
Our own experience of working on Pond's skin-lightening beauty advertising in Asia gave us first-hand experience of just how sensitive beauty marketing can be:
Asian women love fair skin. And Asian men love women with fair skin. That's just the way it is. It's not racist. It's a sign of social status. Fair skin is the privilege of wealthy, urban women who live and work in air-conditioned comfort, cocooned from the brutal tropical sun. And dark skin is the curse of rural girls who live and work outdoors, often helping their families to plant and harvest the annual rice crop. So naturally, these girls want some of that fair-skinned beauty too.
What we found extraordinary is how many people who are not from Asia, find this concept of beauty to be racist and offensive.
A TV campaign we created for Pond's Flawless White attracted hundreds of angry comments on Youtube mainly from women in the western world, many of which were so loaded with profanities that they have since been removed. Fortunately however, the campaign was hugely successful in Asia and Latin America, and attracted adoring comments from these consumers.
But how is this Asian concept of beauty any different from caucasian people who find tanned skin attractive?
Tanned skin usually a sign of social status which shows that you have enough free time on your hands to lie in the sun, or are wealthy enough to fly to an exotic holiday destination and tan your buns while everyone else is shivering at home. And even if you can't make it to the beach there's always tanning salons, or spray-on tanning products as a last resort. (Never mind that you're irreversibly damaging your skin so you'll look like an old handbag by the time you're 40!).
But no-one in the western world seems to get angry about this concept of beauty. Asian women, on the other hand, find it ludicrous that anyone would want to lie in the midday sun to make their skin DARKER! Just go to any beach resort in Asia and count how many Asian women are lying there in their bikinis.
As we say in Asia: Same, same, but different.