The Dove brand sheepishly admitted that it had “missed the mark” with a not-so-vaguely racist advertisement that made it the latest target of consumer rage.

But many angry and befuddled Dove lovers spent the weekend wondering what mark Dove was trying to hit in the first place.

The ad

The ire-inducing advertisement — a static compilation of four photos — was released Saturday afternoon. The first frame shows a dark-skinned woman in what appears to be a bathroom, a bottle of Dove body wash in the lower right-hand corner of the picture.

In subsequent frames, the woman reaches down and lifts up her shirt (and apparently the rest of her skin/costume) to reveal a smiling white woman.


Offended Dove users erupted, and the company quickly apologized on social media.

However, by Monday morning, the hashtag #BoycottDove was spreading on Twitter.

Dove’s statement

But the company’s two-sentence Twitter note and a slightly longer message on Facebook left it unclear what exactly the ad was attempting to convey.

Unilever, Dove’s parent company, did not respond to Washington Post requests for comment.

What was Dove trying to do?

Was Dove saying that inside every black woman is a smiling redheaded white woman?

Was Dove invoking the centuries-old stereotype that black is dirty and white is pure? Or that black skin can or should be cleansed away?

And perhaps the biggest question of all: Did Dove really believe that the ad would make more people of color want to buy its products?

Past Dove ads

On its website, Dove touts the “Real Beauty Pledge,” a vow to feature “real women of different ages, sizes, ethnicities, hair color, type or style.”

The brand recently paid Shonda Rhimes to make mini films celebrating the theme. The producer and screenwriter has created several TV shows that feature minority women as lead characters.

In May, Rhimes produced a short film for Dove about the woman who started the “Fat Girls Dance” group.

Earlier that month, Dove also released six limited-edition bottles of body wash in British markets — some squat and curvy, some tall and lean — that were meant to represent variations of the female form. It advertised the bottles using the phrase “beauty breaks the mould.”

As Jess Zimmerman wrote in The Post, most consumers found the bottles, well, dumb:

“Dove’s new packaging raises a number of questions: Do all the bottles have the same amount of product?” she wrote. “Are you supposed to buy the one that looks like you? Are you allowed to buy the ones that don’t look like you? Are we gearing up for a “Divergent”-style dystopia in which society is divided according to soap format?”

And Zimmerman expressed the same confusion that irate Dove users had this weekend.

“But the most important question is: What, exactly, is the point supposed to be?”

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