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Dove is best known for its drugstore bar soaps, body washes, and deodorants, but it’s also gained notoriety for questionable marketing practices over the past several years.
In its latest blunder, Dove posted a GIF on Facebook in which a black woman removes her skin-colored top and subsequently turns into a white woman wearing a shirt that matches her lighter complexion. The image was met with outcry across social media over the weekend, with many declaring it racially insensitive.
Some even compared the clip to early 20th century soap ads that featured black people scrubbing their skin to in an effort to become white.
Dove swiftly apologized, stating it is “committed to representing the beauty of diversity. 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.” A spokesperson told the New York Times the GIF “was intended to convey that Dove Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and, as a result, offended many people.”
This incident is hardly a first for the brand; it's not even the first this year.
For a British campaign in May, Dove offered its body wash in six differently shaped bottles to represent a range of body types, from “curvaceous to slender, tall to petite.” Shoppers found the idea patronizing, and The Atlantic pointed out that the bottles “inadvertently imply there is a best body after all.” In 2015, a Dove ad showed women presented with the option to enter a building through two doors, one labeled “beautiful” and the other “average.” BuzzFeed called the ad condescending, noting its exploitation of women’s self esteem as a marketing ploy.
But wait, there’s more: In 2014, the brand put out an ad in which women were given pharmaceutical patches that promised to make them more beautiful, only to realize the patches were a placebo — suggesting that beauty is within. Jezebel crowned the manipulative ad Dove’s “Most Bullshit Yet.” There was also a 2011 ad that showed three women in towels standing in order of skin tone, with the word “before” near the darker woman and “after” near the lighter-skinned woman.
Through all of these instances, Dove has defended its intentions, reiterating that its marketing is meant to pivot away from sexualization and other tropes inherent in beauty advertising and instead ignite conversations about body positivity. In April, Dove brought on TV mogul Shonda Rhimes to launch Real Beauty Productions, which will produce future campaigns featuring real women — another signal that the company is interested in diversity. And sure, plenty of people have found Dove’s ads “moving” and “thought-provoking.”
In 2014, a decade after the Real Beauty campaign that many of these initiatives are a part of was created, it was reported that Dove sales had increased $2.5 billion to $4 billion. It’s unlikely that this latest snafu will slow down that momentum.