The major soap producer Dove released an advertisement on Sunday which features a black woman apparently morphing into a white woman who, in turn, morphed into an Asian woman.
The commercial sparked outrage and allegations of racism. Dove immediately took down the ad and released an apology on their Facebook page.
“Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity,” the statement read. “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. The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future.”
If “morphing” sequences in commercials sounds familiar, it’s because companies spend a lot of time working out what psychological strategies work best in advertising. As it turns out, morphing scenes are highly successful.
From Critical Commons:
“In a medium whose very essence is the ability to reproduce the look of everyday reality, one of the surest ways of attracting the viewer’s attention is to violate that reality,” contends Paul Messaris. What intrigues him is advertising’s use of distorted imagery to make a viewer notice a product. Studies in cognitive psychology show that this distortion is most effective when it varies only slightly from a familiar object. As Messaris explains, “if the discrepancy between the unfamiliar shape and some preexisting one is only partial, the mental task of fitting in the new shape becomes more complicated. As a result, such partially strange shapes can cause us to pay closer attention.” If an object is wholly different from what you are familiar with, you may ignore it completely or place it in a new visual category; but if it is partially similar, then your cognitive processes work overtime trying to figure out whether or not it is a familiar object.
Messaris cites digital morphing as a prime example of this principle.
What Dove was trying to achieve in their ad was a means of simultaneously attracting attention while conveying the message that Dove body wash is “for every woman.”
“The short video was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman,” Dove said in its statement, “and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong.”
The New York Post has more:
But the apology failed to stem a torrent of online criticism, with some social media users calling for a boycott of Dove products, while conventional media outlets in the United States and Europe were also seizing on the story.
In Britain, the controversy featured prominently in Monday’s television breakfast shows, with guests debating how the ad got through the company’s approval process and whether it was indicative of a broader problem with racism in marketing.
On Twitter, posts including the hashtag #BoycottDove, which started over the weekend among U.S. users, were appearing in multiple European languages.
“In short, racism is back in fashion and brands are looking to benefit,” wrote user @Beatrix B. in French.
In the full clip, the black woman removed her T-shirt to reveal the white woman, who then lifted her own top to reveal an Asian woman.
Several media outlets failed to detail the entire clip, leaving out the fact that the white woman morphed into an Asian woman, to give more credit to interpreting the ad as racist.
The New York Post continues:
The apology received a barrage of outraged comments.
“What exactly were yall going for? What was the mark… I mean anyone with eyes can see how offensive this is. Not one person on your staff objected to this? Wow. Will not be buying your products anymore,” one woman wrote.
“This is gross. You think people of color can just wash away their melanin and become white? What were you going for, exactly? Your creative director should be fired,” another said.
The Dove debacle comes months after German skincare company Nivea came under fire for its “White is Purity” deodorant ad.
The New York Times featured a four-picture segment, conveniently leaving out the fact that the white woman would soon morph into an Asian woman:
And here’s the full clip:
The misconception compares the ad to much earlier, blatantly racist ads:
the racist dove ad is a continuation of a long history of racist soap advertising pic.twitter.com/nO7iDT7dxH
— /kaw·reɪdʒ/ (@kawrage) October 8, 2017
The Dove ad was conveniently cut short to create a spectacle where there wasn’t any.