Racist Dove Ad Depicts Women of Color as Unclean

The company said it “missed the mark” with an ad that shows a Black woman who turns herself white with Dove soap.


An advertisement for Dove soap has drawn criticism from social media users, who called attention to its racist message.

The original ad appeared on the company’s Facebook page. It depicted a Black woman wearing a brown t-shirt. She removes the top to reveal a smiling white woman wearing a white shirt who also removes her shirt, unveiling a different white woman.

By Saturday, amid growing criticism, the ad had been taken down and Dove had released apologies.

Over the weekend, social media continued questioning how Dove, which is owned by Unilever, released the advertisement in the first place. Some people also called for a boycott of the company, as well as other subsidiaries of Unilever.

Dove said on its Twitter and Facebook pages that it “missed the mark” with its ad.

“Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity,” the company wrote on Facebook. “In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused. The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future.”

According to Ad Age, “it’s unclear who created the ad. 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.”

No matter which mind was behind the ad, a look at both companies’ boardrooms suggests how the ad came to be.

Thirteen people make up Unilever’s executive and non-executive directors, according to its website. Seven of them are white men, and there is one white woman.

Ogilvy & Mather’s board of directors does not boast much diversity, either — the majority of its members are white males.

Dove has tried to brand itself as a champion of diversity, notably with its “Dove Real Beauty Pledge.” However, the mishap over the weekend was not the company’s first brush with advertisements critics deemed racist.

A 2011 ad showed a “before” and “after” to depict “visibly more beautiful skin.” Three women are standing in a row in front of two backdrops. The “before” represents dry skin, and the “after” symbolizes smooth skin. The woman standing first in the row — representing the less “beautiful” before image — is Black. The third woman in the row is white. Huffington Post at the time surmised that the woman in the middle was “possibly Latina.”

The idea depicted in the recent Dove ad is an old concept that whiteness represents beauty and purity, whereas blackness is associated with evil and dirtiness.

Social media users drew parallels between Dove’s ad and much older ones that promote the same message.

Read more news @ DiversityInc.com

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  • Hahahahahahaha, you morons will scream racism at absolutely anything you can. What a pathetically stupid audience and staff you have here.

    • No, us “morons” will allege “racism” whenever it is evidenced. I am not sure how it is possible you don’t see anything wrong with the ad and I would love an opportunity to further discuss.

    • Riiiggghhhttt… You need a history lesson… White snowflakes.. Always screening racism… Until it’s them.

  • This is an inexcusable ad without question. It is amazing that the Director and Chaiir of Unilever Corporate Social responsibility is Black.

    • That office probably never saw the ad before it went out. Had they run it by them it’s possible the ad would never have aired.

  • There is lots of money made, and pain, suffering and harm caused, through skin lightening products in countries outside the US. I am curious if this ad was intended for the overseas market but somehow, and for some reason released in the US. For reasons totally unrelated to this ad, my family does not, and has not used dove products. All this makes me think of what my wife said when I bought Dove because our regular bar soap was not available, “Dove stinks!”

    • Even if it were designed for a different country – it’s still wrong. They need to take global responsibility for their products.

  • This is unbelievable! Dove had to know this was racist on it’s face. No US company is that out of touch. As someone else said, time to find another soap!

  • Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

    The room must have been full of exceptionally clueless white folks when THAT ad was suggested; and approved; and shot (except for the black actress). Even this ol’ cracker boy is going, “They did WHAT…?”

    • So Unilever’s Exec Board is 13 people, 7 of whom are white. What about the others? Seems convenient their race/ethnicity is not given.

      Also, had they reversed the roles and the black women was second, or third, would you have felt the same? What about the middle white women, Was she seen as dirtier than the last women?

      • I don’t think the board is where we should focus for responsibility in this debacle. Click on this link https://www.unilever.com/about/who-we-are/our-leadership/?page=1, Take a look at the executives whose photos are mixed in with the (diverse) board. The executives are not very diverse – mostly men and/or majority where they came from. No Black women.

        Advertising decisions are not made on the board level. It is the executives who are responsible for this mess.

        Regarding the order of the women, I don’t think there was a way to make this ad not offensive. It’s a bad concept. Clever from a technical point of view, and I’m sure that’s what everyone fell in love with during the creative process.

  • This is not the first time. Colleagues and I used a Dove ad for Leadership training a few years back that suggested the need for sensitivity around some racial and body image issues. Again..?

  • As an African American woman, this ad is offensive because I wouldn’t trade my beautifully tanned skin color to look like the sickly pale albino in the ad.

    We don’t need to go to tanning booths to get our beautiful brown skin color. Nor do we have to spray ourselves orange like tRump to add color to pale, sick-looking skin color.

    This Black actress must really be broke to participate in such a racist ad. Black Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Toms like her, Condoleeza Rice, Oprah, Paris Dennard, Ben Carson, and Clarence ThomAss are to blame for being partakers of evil, white racist supremacy. There are many BlacKKKs who place themselves on 21st Century slave auction blocks to the highest white slave master bidder. They are the direct descendants of African chiefs who sold their mothers, brothers, sisters, and children into slavery to evil white people.

    They couldn’t pay me enough money to be in a racist commercial.

    • Minor KKKorrection perhaps due – don’t you usually spell the names KKKondoleeza, KKKarson, and KKKlarence?
      And a further suggestion – “sickly pale albino” might work better as “sicKKKly …”

    • Charity Dell

      ZAZIJAMS–I doubt that ANY of the actresses who appeared knew what the ad executives had in mind.
      Typically, actors/actresses are called in to do a shoot, and they are NOT usually told how the footage
      will be used in the commercials. The photographer/cinematographer is not usually told that, either;
      all the magic– or, in this case, evil–happens AFTER the “creative designer” decides:

      1. Which footage to use;
      2. How much footage to use;
      3. How the footage will be edited; and
      4. What special effects/CGI (computer generated effects)
      will be used.

      The actors/actresses don’t see the finished work until it’s out there on television
      and/or the internet.

  • Sharon Jordan

    I don’t care about your apology. I’m sick and tired of people perpetrating these horrible racists comments and actions and thinking an “I’m sorry” fixes it all. This is blatant and overt, hurtful and despicable. How many people saw this before it was approved for release? The message is not vague, it is loud and clear. Very disappointing Dove. I was appreciative of your efforts toward diversity. It will be very difficult for me to spend another dollar on your products.

  • I saw a Twitter screenshot of a Dove product for dry skin… The label, “good for normal to dark skin” WTH?

    Did they not do a focus group on this? BTW in countries where skin whitening is a big deal among the naturally brown and black populations (really sad), the message would have been clear – white is better than your natural skin color.

    As a woman of color, who spent the entire summer with her cousin tanning because we thought our skin was too light, I can’t imagine trying to actually lighten my skin.

    • Charity Dell

      MEH–I did not know that Dove’s products are “good for normal to dark skin!”
      That’s just CRAZY–dark skin comes in a variety of textures, sensitivities and/or degrees of dryness,
      so hue/shade/tint/color does not determine how dry or sensitive the skin is!

      1. You’re right about the “excessive bleaching” problem in other countries.
      Too many lighteners use hydroquinone, which is BANNED in Europe for
      its carcinogenic properties. There are safer, natural lighteners such as
      alpha arbutin, kojic acid and citrus juices such as lemon.

      2. There are other CONSTRUCTIVE uses for skin lighteners OTHER THAN
      just “trying to look white.” Most people use lighteners to:

      A. Even out skin tone that may vary in certain places;
      B. Lighten freckles, ugly birthmarks, port wine stains or dark moles;
      C. Lighten acne scars or keloids to match the original skin color;
      D. Remove the dark facial “mask” that tends to develop on the face in
      middle age (and especially after menopause);
      E. Remove hyper-pigmentation from skin affected by hormones or
      some other disease and/or condition.

  • Welcome to Trump’s America. This is an example of pushing his agenda through a medium of a major brand that was left unchecked (and not put through market research channels either as many ads are from big corporations are!!) and/or staffed with employees that probably didn’t see anything wrong with this. They may not have had the experience or maturity to know or the initiative to research making it was a wonderful opportunity for those/the one with final approval authority and responsibility — who did know — to slip it out there. It’s now in Advertising history. Mission accomplished.

    This is not the first or the last of minority images being ‘slipped in’ to this agenda in the last 10 months, and yes, those that spot it need to call it, and it’s products/brand and Ad agency out. A “missed the mark” or “I’m sorry” when it reaches mass consumerism as it is intended to do, will not surfice in my view.

  • Welcome to Trump’s America. This is an example of pushing his agenda through a medium of a major brand that was left unchecked (and not put through market research channels either as many ads are from big corporations are!!) and/or staffed with employees that probably didn’t see anything wrong with this. They may not have had the experience or maturity to know or the initiative to research making it was a wonderful opportunity for those/the one with final approval authority and responsibility — who did know — to slip it out there. It’s now in Advertising history. Mission accomplished.

    This is not the first or the last of minority images being ‘slipped in’ to this agenda in the last 10 months, and yes, those that spot it need to call it, and it’s products/brand and Ad agency out. A “missed the mark” or “I’m sorry” when it reaches mass consumerism as it is intended to do, will not suffice in my view.

    • I am so weary of hearing this but apologizes for an ad that went awry and everybody blames it on Trump do you even hear yourself!????
      So would you rather take a white woman and make her look dirty I don’t now put her in the mud wrestling scene and then clean her up
      Or would you rather them take a woman of color and cover her with the same mud wrestling team and clean her up that’s find a solution to your ridiculous comment I believe that the company has the right to show how they use their product anyway they so choose.
      If however you find it offensive that’s your problem. As it seems to be everybody’s problem Who tend to find racist controversial comments About everything. Trump is not the one who started this racial hate that you keep putting out in your propaganda
      You are the ones who keep stirring a pot that somebody created.
      I have two words for you write them down
      STOP I T

      • Discounting people who don’t look like you is easy and uncomplicated. I understand you see what you desire to see and fits your world view just like others so why am I wrong for my view? Until you have walked around in my skin…..

      • If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I have 3 words for you – write them down
        GET A CLUE

      • Charity Dell

        CHER–Mandi Pinni told the TRUTH. Since the Part-Time Resident45 of 1600 Pennsylvania assumed the title
        of “president”, the climate was set for more race-baiting, hatred and vilification of those who do not look
        like northern Europeans. You know, “Make America Great Again” is clearly understood by millions of Americans
        to mean “Make America White Again.” The Dove advertisement is also sending this message, disguised as a
        “body wash” ad. The message is this:

        If you use Dove soap, you can wash your blackness away.

        Think about it–why does’t the ad start out with the Pale White Lady, then morph to the Southern European
        Lady, THEN morph to the Dark Brown Lady?

        Companies do NOT have the “right” to portray racist nonsense disguised as “freedom of advertising.”
        Advertisements typically tend to be ridiculous, humorous or otherwise “fictitious”, but they have no sacrosanct
        “right” to constantly portray non-white people as something “dirty” that their product can “clean up” to some
        acceptable level of “whiteness.”

  • Jeanne Martinson

    I think it is important to look at the ad with all three actresses. The Black actress turns into the Caucasian actress who turns into a southern European/Latina actress. This is an important discussion so we need to talk from accuracy.

    • You’re right, seeing the entire ad is important. But I don’t think it mitigates the perceived offense. It is that perception that is important, because all of sales and marketing is about creating an advantageous perception.

    • Charity Dell

      JEANNE MARTINSON–What do you think the ad is trying to say?
      I’m frankly baffled why they had to have all this morphing imagery,
      instead of simply portraying a group of actresses from several
      different ethnic backgrounds using the products…

  • As a white male and Dove user I was almost willing to accept their apology until I read further and found out this is not their 1st “mistake”. As the saying goes, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”!! This is a perfect example of a complete failure of leadership. After the 1st incident you would think a few checks and balances would have been put in place so it didn’t happen again. Whoever was involved in the creation, production & approval of this ad should be fired for blatant racism or blatant stupidity. I’m glad I am in the process of switching from Dove Soap to natural Castille Soap.

  • Eye roll. My goodness, how sad it must be to live a life where you’re constantly offended. Looks like a certain Michael Jackson video. I guess he was a racist too. Sheesh.

  • I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, in this case, it’s impossible to think of an innocent explanation for this totally clueless and tone-deaf ad. What could they possibly have been thinking?

    • I don’t think they had ill intent, I think there weren’t any Black people in the decision chain at either Ogilvy or Unilever. I discussed this at a lunch yesterday- there were two Black women executives at the table. The look on their faces (when I brought it up) would have been enough for anyone to can that ad.

      Ogilvy is indicative of the ad agency business in general- all talk about diversity, no accomplishments except window dressing.

      • Honest question; if you don’t believe they had ill intent, why would you go with the headline saying it is a racist ad?

          • “Racist” used to actually mean something. It has been so over used it no longer has any sting. It just seems to mean anything a Leftist doesn’t like or agree with.

          • No, I think you are confusing the ability and power (in this case, market power) for people to call it as they see it. This ability is disruptive to the majority, which used to have the imprimatur to offend at will.

    • Charity Dell

      GRANNYBUNNY–This ad just shows again how “invisible” we Black women are to the advertising executives.
      They clearly did not consult US or test the advertisement with focus groups. We just aren’t “important enough”
      to be consulted. They’ll figure it out when they lose $money$, because those Black women who did use their
      products will buy something else.

  • The ad and what it depicts is disgraceful and shouldn’t have been run. For those with comments that belittle what this represents to people of color who have expressed hurt, if you haven’t walked a mile in our shoes you don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s easy to say people shouldn’t feel hurt when it’s not you who is constantly depicted in a negative light as evil, dirty, unclean or less than. There is still systemic racism in this country and we’re seeing it back on the main stage in a big and in your face way. Racism is still prevalent in this country and as hurtful in its’ intent as it ever was. As a black woman I don’t walk around looking for racism or racist intent behind every door or corner; however when it’s thrown in my face so blatantly and obviously then yes, I’ll call it by its name. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it’s a duck. Sorry doesn’t cut it either. People of color spend how much money in this country? If we stopped spending our money on products by companies like this who clearly have a negative view of us, that would get their attention where all the outcries of racism do not. At the end of the day, people understand when their bottom line is being impacted and our dollars going in their pockets would surely send a clear and definitive message.

  • The ad, even in the full context, is incredibly tone-deaf. Whether you think it is offensive or not, you must wonder why would anyone think that this is a good way to sell soap?
    I no longer use Dove soap (it leaves a residue that I do not care for, and I am told their shampoo does not work well for my hair type) but was certainly not convinced to switch over after this ad. This is also not Dove’s first brush with controversy, which makes me suspect of their motives.

    This reminds me of the VW car (?) commercial marketed in China. It showed a future mother-in-law checking out her son’s wife-to-be…as if the woman was a brand new car. TONE DEAF. Do companies do these things on purpose to build up publicity??

  • My female co-workers had a discussion about this over lunch yesterday. One Latina saw nothing wrong with it, but could understand why it could be perceived as offensive. One Chinese woman thought Dove was implying that whiteness is closer to cleanliness. Three Caucasian woman thought it was in very bad taste at the least, and racist at the most.

  • I can appreciate the perception of the commercial and certainly don’t discount those perceptions. Food for thought – if the order were reversed, Black woman last, is there still a message to the ad? If there is, then why should the order matter if our ultimate goal is to view everyone as equals?

    @Johny – because you visit the site you are in fact part of the audience, ergo you are pathetically stupid.

  • Yvonne Farrell

    Not only did Dove miss the mark but my dear sister missed the implied message also. Stay “Woke”

  • Min. W. D. Patterson

    I beg to differ with most because I do not think DOVE had any mal-intent of this being interpreted as racist. It’s a part of black culture to “overkill” in order to get our points across. This too, has been construed as disruptive and unruly as it is taken purely void of “cultural-competency (cp).” The word “Race” has been banned from my vocabulary as a social scientist of human geography studying behavioral patterns and characteristics spatially. -wDp

    • I don’t think it was intentionally offensive either, but that doesn’t make it right.

      If I’m playing with my cell phone and ram your car, the fact that I didn’t intend to ram your car is immaterial.

      Ignoring a situation and never talking about it solves nothing. I don’t recommend you try to treat cancer that way.

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