Why do companies like Dove keep missing the mark on culturally insensitive ads?

The lack of diversity in the advertising industry makes responsible content difficult to achieve

Published January 1, 2018 8:29AM (EST)


This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetIn early October, when Dove released an ad that was at the very least culturally insensitive, outrage from white people and people of color alike ensued. The ad showed women from a variety of ethnicities changing clothes to represent getting clean with Dove body wash. But the depiction of a black model removing her shirt seemingly equated becoming clean with becoming white. It’s unclear what Dove hoped to accomplish with this ad, but the flood of responses led to a public apology and removal of the ad.

This is not the first time in recent history that Dove, along with other large-scale agencies for beauty products and other commodities, has released ads that insulted or downright ostracized black women or communities of color.

A few months ago, Shea Moisture, which provides products tailored to black skin and hair, released an ad that caused backlash. The advertisement, which featured all-white or very light-skinned, loose-haired black women, alienated the company's target customers. Shea Moisture gained its widespread success by providing affordable products for black women who have coarse and kinky natural hair. It didn’t take long for the criticism and product boycotts to trigger an apology from Shea Moisture, but for many, their loyalty to the brand was severed.

Earlier in 2017, Pepsi made a mockery of police and community relations after releasing an ad that made agreement between the opposed views seem as simple as sharing a soda. The oversimplification of the Black Lives Matter movement left many infuriated.

And more recently, in late October, Santher, a Brazilian toilet paper company took the racist-ad cake for using the slogan “Black is Beautiful,” a phrase that became popular in the late ’60s to early ’70s to celebrate black empowerment in the face of European beauty standards. But Santher used the phrase to market the debut of its new black toilet paper. For many, this message literally represented wiping one’s backside with black empowerment and beauty.

2017 isn’t the first year we have seen these and similar marketing campaigns in the news quarterly, if not more often. Many consumers have abandoned product lines they have used for years due to the mismanaged opportunity to appeal to customers of color.

Product boycotts and decreases in offending companies’ revenue are becoming more common as black Americans seek to let their dollars do the talking. But in the meantime, many stand by wondering what could have possibly provoked well-known companies to produce campaigns that demonstrate so little concern for cultural sensitivity.

“We currently live in a very racially charged climate, and I am a firm believer that if you don’t understand the importance of creating quality content without offending others now, you never will,” said Stephanie Caudle, founder of Black Girl Group, a micro-job site that connects African-American women freelancers to companies that are struggling to create content for African-American audiences.

It doesn’t take long to figure out the source of the issue. The reason so few companies produce materials with culturally sensitive displays is because companies aren’t really very diverse. A look at the higher ranks of marketing at many of the top companies reveals very few black marketing executives. The last few years have shown us that black Americans — women in particular — are a driving force in regard to both purchasing power and trendsetting. But because they are often underrepresented or not represented at all within the upper echelons of these agencies, materials continue to be produced that don’t acknowledge these facts.

Caudle, who has worked in marketing and advertising for over 10 years, believes the recent marketing snafus were more insensitive than offensive, and that they reflect shallow attempts at industry diversification — and the data supports her on the latter.

The AdColor Partnership Guide notes:

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 582,000 Americans employed in advertising and communications in 2014, less than half are women, 6.6% are black or African-American, 5.7% are Asian and 10.5% are Hispanic.”

There are fewer than 100 black female executives in advertising, PR and related industries in the U.S.


By Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez