Dove’s Racist Ad Campaign Draws Historical Parallels

Predating Dove’s blatantly racialized campaign, in which a black woman removes her brown shirt to reveal, after having used Dove’s body wash, a cheerful white woman underneath, advertisements have employed gendered and racialized imagery and language since the conception of a consumerist society. Despite Dove’s management having removed the advertisement and apologized for its insensitivity, their repetition is indicative of a larger issue at hand.

 

Writing that they “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully” and “deeply regret the offense it caused,” Dove’s rather flippant and insincere apology fails to acknowledge a history of racist rhetoric and imagery within the soap and cosmetic industries. While some social media critics have expressed their outrage and dissatisfaction with Dove’s campaign, many have also called for a boycott of their products. The conflation of blackness with uncleanliness and undesirability versus whiteness with purity has never failed to pervade the ad industry and the societies that reiterate these ideals.

Moreover, the Dove advertisement parallels the 1897 Fairy Soap ad, in which a young white child asks, “why doesn’t your mama wash you with Fairy Soap?” The young black child is illustrated almost menacingly, clutching her raggedy dress and barefoot. Demeaning propaganda, in which black people are depicted as dirty, uneducated and uncivil beings, was predominantly employed to recruit and unify white consumers at the expense of the black community. Dove’s controversial ad, however, is not only problematic, but racist as it reinforces white supremacist imagery and renews an historic denigration of black people.  

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Because advertising agencies profit off of social norms and prevailing stereotypes as a means to relate to and market to consumers, Dove’s advertisement is indicative of a society whose race relations remain tenuous as racism persists. However, as more people continue to challenge racialized imagery in advertisements, whether that be through social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, advertising agencies are forced to reevaluate their material to avoid consumer backlash and the American society is compelled to acknowledge its historic racism and its manifestations within today’s media outlets.

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