Dove apologized after posting an image on its Facebook page that depicted a black woman removing her top and morphing into a white woman after supposedly using Dove body lotion. Not captured in many of the images circulating on social media is the full three-second video, where the white woman then removes her top and turns into a female of other ethnicity. The message: Dove celebrates diversity and its products are for all women.
Dove has some skin in the game—pun intended—when talking about diversity, specifically through well-established initiatives like its Real Beauty Campaign and Self-Esteem Project. The Unilever-owned brand has long encouraged women to embrace who they are and what they look like.
Despite this, Dove was quickly accused of racism. Feeling the heat, the brand pulled the images from its Facebook page and tweeted that it "missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully" rather than explain how the images were taken out of context.
Even so, its apology—"we deeply regret the offense it caused"—wasn’t enough for the nearly 3,000 users who commented under the tweet. Almost all were critical. Many even called for a boycott of Dove’s products.
While brands often are skewered in the press and public for half-hearted apologies—and rightfully so—I would argue that where Dove "missed the mark" was in so quickly issuing an apology.
Sensing a social media storm was brewing, Dove should have had the courage of its convictions, explained the images were taken out of context, and defended its creative vision: "All women are beautiful and we didn’t believe the order in which they appeared in the ad was critical to that message." A brand that has done so much to raise awareness and elevate the conversation about self-esteem has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Even the Nigerian-born model who appeared in the ad insisted it celebrates ethnic diversity. "I don’t feel it was racist," she said during an interview with the BBC on Wednesday.
It appears that Dove, at worst, is guilty of choosing the wrong images for its Facebook page. On October 9, Dove admitted that the limited screengrabs one of its social media staff posted "should not have happened, and "we are re-evaluating our internal processes for creating and approving content to prevent us making this type of mistake in the future."
Talking about race and body image is not a safe space for any brand. Yet Dove has a long history of addressing, in a genuine way, the insecurities with which many of us, both women and men, struggle. For this, it should be applauded and not castigated.
T.J. Winick is VP at Solomon McCown & Co. and a former on-air TV journalist.