Some in the blogosphere and on Twitter have criticized the ad as being racist, saying that the ad implies that lighter skin is better than darker skin.
But what does the average consumer think? According to a poll conducted by the Today Show, 88.9 percent of poll respondants (116,530 people) believed that the advertisement is not racist. A similar poll on the Huffington Post reveals that 58.91 percent of readers think the advertisement is harmless and that there’s no hidden message.
Dove’s responded to the controversy with the following statement:
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.
What Does This Say About Social Media’s Relevance?
Those of us who fully embrace social media realize that this new digital landscape is a game changer for business and communications. But I think some of us forget that social media is not the end-all for communication, and opinions that go viral on social media platforms will not necessarily affect mainstream consumers.
It’s true that more and more people are signing up for Twitter, but that “more and more” is still only 11 percent of adults.If you ask your friends what their favorite Twitter hashtag is, many of them will probably not understand the question.
Social Media, Crisis Communication and “Freak Out” mode
So when a large segment of your audience does not believe your ad is racist, but a small segment of influential tweeters and bloggers do, do you have a crisis on your hands?
The women’s blog Jezebel suggests that the response by Dove should have been simplified down to talking about how the “Before” and “After” panels in the advertisement refer to the panels, and that all three women in the advertisement have beautiful skin.
Shel Holtz, one of the two podcasters for the public relations podcast “For Immediate Release” suggests that the Dove should have released a more concise statement, then put the issue behind them because such a small segment of their consumer base took offense to the advertisement.
I personally tend to agree with Shel and Jezebel. I think companies should strive to hit 100 percent customer satisfaction all the time, but they also need to realize that sometimes (emphasis on sometimes), social media trends that speak negatively of your company are not huge crisis. Yes, they need to be addressed, but companies can better spend their time concentrating on other issues.
Was releasing this advertisement a mistake? Probably. Someone in the company should have caught the potential negative racial undertones in the advertisement, and the advertisement as release should have never seen the light of day.
But is this a huge crisis? Dave’s brand may take a hit on some social media platforms, and it is something that needs to be addressed, but the majority of Dove’s consumer base does not see any problem with the advertisement.