Unilever's global personal care brand Dove has experienced a strong backlash against a racially insensitive Facebook ad. The video for its body wash showed a black woman shrugging off a T-shirt that matched her skin tone – turning into a white woman in the process. The ad has since been pulled.
While the visual was intended to show that the product works for many skin types, it conveyed connotations of racism and colourism, provoking strong reaction. Despite slow and steady social change, definitions of beauty still remain centred around white features. Black bodies are still largely excluded from beauty ideals, while soap and detergent ads even have a racist legacy of depicting black people as dirty.
Dove's oversight suggests that no one along the ad's creative path saw a problem with it – or, if they did, may not have felt empowered to voice their concerns.
Marketing and advertising teams in particular need to reflect the diversity of the audiences they are hoping to connect with, as expressed at the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia on October 6. Apple's vice-president of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith, stressed the importance of bringing in staff members from all backgrounds. "Representation and mix contribute to the outcome of any situation," she said.
We address the benefits of culturally inclusive teams in great detail in Diverse Talent, Superhero Staff, part of our Macro Trend The Work/Life Revolution. For more on what to do in the aftermath of such advertising missteps, see Surviving Marketing Fails.