Anatomy of a PR crisis: Dove forced to defend allegedly ‘racist’ ad

The controversy over the ad began on Monday with a 54-word blog post. Today, newspapers and TV stations are covering the story, prompting Unilever-owned Dove to respond to allegations of racism.


PR crises can happen in a flash. One day you’re thinking about your long-weekend plans, the next you’re responding to claims of racism.

Such is the case this week for Unilever-owned Dove brand.

On Monday, the blog Copyranter shared the ad (shown above) from Dove under the headline: “Dove body wash turns Black women into Latino women into White women.” The blog called the ad “stupid” and suggested it was a fake. It wasn’t.

Should Dove have responded to the blog immediately? There’s little need to ask that question because hours later a much larger website, Gawker, picked up the story, calling it “the most (unintentionally) racist skin care ad in about … 10 months.” One day later the blog Styleite asked the question: “Is Dove’s Newest Body Wash Ad Racist?”

Today, The Huffington Post, BNet, several newspapers and TV station websites, and countless blogs are asking the same question: Is this ad racist?

In just three days, a 54-word blog post has sparked a PR storm for Dove.

Dove’s PR firm, Edelman, offered Gawker this response:

“We believe that real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and ages and are committed to featuring realistic and attainable images of beauty in all our advertising. We are also dedicated to educating and encouraging all women and girls to build a positive relationship with beauty, to help raise self-esteem and to enable them to realize their full potential.

“The ad is intended to illustrate the benefits of using Dove VisibleCare Body Wash, by making skin visibly more beautiful in just one week. All three women are intended to demonstrate the ‘after’ product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience.”

Meanwhile, Twitter users are chattering about the ad, with some people—including this PR pro—giving it the (predictable) “fail” label. Dove’s Facebook page is relatively quiet today, with one commenter defending the company.

Dove has won accolades for its Self-Esteem Fund (from Oprah, no less), encouraging women to “believe your own unique beauty and guide your daughter to believe in hers.” At the same time, Unilever has taken flak for a Facebook app that helps Indian women lighten their skin.

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