Advertising, Consumer Insight, Reputation

Lay off Dove! Some women want lighter skin.

Courtesy: photobucket

In case you just crawled out from under a rock, Dove’s done another clanger. It ran an ad on Facebook where a black woman removes her brown tees ( an allusion to skin colour?) to transform into a white woman. The interpretation by many is that the ad depicts white skin as being superior to dark skin. Dove has been accused of being tone deaf and the ad racist.

Personally, I think everyone should take a chill pill. Dove isn’t the only guilty party. Many personal care brands have been sold on their ability to turn black skin into white. An ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.

Dove has, of course, pulled the ad and apologised. But a lot of folks are still baying for blood. Dove’s clanger is one too many. From a tone-deaf ‘before’ and ‘after’ ad, to controversial product packaging. (Dove says the packaging highlight different body types. Critics say it feeds on female insecurities)

But perhaps there is some hypocrisy going on here? I’ll explain.

While the ad or body wash in question is not of the ‘lightening’ stock, In Nigeria, we know there are many dark-skin women who want to be ‘fairer.’ Presumably, a lighter skin colour is more beautiful and attractive. It’s been said that Nigerian men like ‘yellow girls.’ I have known chicks who have turned tan from medium brown. Lightening creams, extreme or mild, branded or labelless, is good business in Nigeria right now. I hear that there are even lightening pills! You ingest them and you become Snow White.


Fellas, bow your heads in shame! You’re driving an insane trend!

So, it seems there’s a market for ‘fair’ skin amongst dark-skin women. Dove and other personal care brands may be merely meeting this need.

We can perhaps draw a parallel between this and the Dove global study in 2004. The study led to the iconic Dove campaign for Real Beauty. It revealed that only 2% of women thought themselves beautiful. Dove has conducted a recent study, The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited, to check on progress. The highlights are below:

  • Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful (up from 2% in 2004).
  • Only 11% of girls globally are comfortable describing themselves as ‘beautiful’.
  • 72% of girls feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful. 
  • 80% of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful but do not see their own beauty.
  • More than half of women globally (54%) agree that when it comes to how they look, they are their own worst critic. 

So, Dove may well be thinking:

“Why swim against the tide? We’ve done all we can to encourage confidence in women and help them reject insular notions of beauty. Maybe we can’t get many women to see themselves as beautiful? If they don’t think they are beautiful, perhaps there is an opportunity to help them be beautiful product-wise?” 

Who knows, the study could have unearthed that people of colour wish their skin colour was fairer.

Dove can’t be accused of creating a demand for a non-existent need. From a product point of view, if there’s no need, it’s nonsensical to create the product.

Now, ladies, before you get on your broomsticks, I’m not saying that the ad is not tone-deaf. Nor that white skin is superior to darker skin. No, I believe – as Dove once believed – that people should feel comfortable in their skin colour. What I’m saying is, perhaps the only way in which Dove erred, is in the letter of their advertising and not in the spirit. 

How Dove can sell dark-to-white without offending folks, I haven’t the faintest idea. But this is Unilever we are talking about here. If it could do all that great marketing for Axe, it can figure out skin ‘whitening’/bleaching marketing.

If I were Unilever, a bigger concern for me would be how all these missteps impact on the equity Dove has built. As a powerful voice for diversity, real beauty, self-esteem and body confidence. Surely, these weren’t done for mercantile purposes?

Of course, these things are. Brand purpose? Yawn.


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