Racism in Online Advertisements: An Analysis of the Dove Body Wash Advert
With the internet becoming the norm in terms of mass media communication, concerns are growing on how information conveyed through the medium enforces racism. The primary motive by advertisers is to influence the audience to act in a particular way, make certain decisions, or develop new perspectives on a specific subject. The 2017 Dove Body Wash advert indicates that subtle subliminal messaging is applied to influence buyers’ decisions, suggesting that a biased message need not be immediately apparent for an advert to be declared racist. Therefore, left unchecked, advertisers in the online market have the potential to fuel racism in society, whether deliberately or inadvertently.
Racism has been a major source of societal disharmony for centuries. While significant strides have been made towards equalizing the racial gap by creating more just and inclusive societies, messages portrayed in ads, especially through the internet, threaten to reverse these gains. A suitable example is the 2017 Dove Body Wash advertisement for its hand wash campaign that depicted the model, Lola Ogunyemi, in a manner many felt was racist.
The Dove ad shows a black woman transforming into a white woman after using the company’s body wash. It affirms the age-long racial stereotype that black women would look better with lighter skin. Hence, this represents discriminatory thinking as it implies that blacks are no peers to whites, and the only way to equalize the difference is by removing their dark pigmentation to appear whiter. It is a suggestion that society has no place for people with dark skin as they are inferior to their counterpart, Caucasians.
Such perspectives can take society back decades before the 1960s, when it was acceptable to discriminate black people and treat them as societal subordinates. It reverses the important gains that have been made to eradicate racial thoughts and practices in civilized society. The critical question at this juncture is whether Dove was completely ignorant about the potential of the ad to communicate racism against black people. Some would argue that this was a cleverly calculated ploy to garner as much attention to the advertisement as possible, regardless of the means applied. The company that owns the Dove brand is a major corporation with a professional marketing department. As such, the excuse that a racist commercial went through all checks and made it to the mass media is unsatisfactory.
The media has a profound influence on the beliefs, values, norms, and public ideology. Significant changes are evident in values and perspectives after exposure to specific advertisements with subliminal messages. Therefore, it is advisable to vet ads to ensure that they are not perpetuating hate and excluding members of particular communities. As much as multiculturalism and anti-racism campaigns counter the adverse effects of racist ads, it is not enough to deal with the irresponsibility or ignorance that marketers sometimes propagate racism as a ploy to attract traffic and stimulate discussions about the firm or its products.
For Dove to so blatantly flaunt anti-racism goals is an indication that even big corporations cannot be trusted to make decisions that benefit society as a whole by building equal communities. By meeting the bare minimum of the laws, Dove was prepared to discriminate an entire race to publicize their body wash and increase the bottom line. It is impossible to imagine that the marketing department was unaware of the controversy that such a campaign would garner but deliberately chose this strategy for that purpose. It is an often-repeated statement that any publicity is good, and companies are crossing the line of common decency to generate attention at any cost. It is true that stirring up the controversy attracted a larger audience than would have been impossible to reach through a regular advertisement.
Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash TV Commercial, ‘Wash Label’ iSpot.tv. 2017, www.ispot.tv/ad/wgbQ/dove-deep-moisture-body-wash-wash-label. Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.