When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: “Ethics Dunce” Is Inadequate For Dove Soap [UPDATED]


What the hell?

The above jaw-dropping ad for Dove soap debuted to so much outrage and controversy that it was almost immediately taken off the web. Dove apologized by the ad had “missed the mark.” WHAT mark? What could an ad that shows a black woman transforming herself into a white woman under the influence of Dove soap have been intended to convey?

That Dove is so amazing that it turns a black woman into a white one (actually a gorgeous black woman into a sort of cute white one)?

That inside every black woman is a white women trying to get out?

That race is only skin deep?

That white and black women are essentially interchangeable, given the right soap?

That black women are like caterpillars, and eventually emerge from their shell as white women?

This is a level of incompetence that one seldom sees, even in Washington, D.C. Nobody in the chain of command as this ad was created and launched, from the ad agency to the company’s executives, had sufficient cultural awareness to say, indeed to scream, “Wait, are you kidding? We can’t use an ad like that! Don’t be ridiculous!” How can that be?

I am perplexed.

UPDATE: I am only somewhat less perplexed. Here is the original ad in its entirety: all I could find last night was the screen shots.

Thanks to texagg04 for passing on a link to the actual video. Contrary to the arguments of some, it doesn’t change the dead ethics alarms diagnosis. It’s an add for soap. The implication that enough soap can turn a black girl white is obviously going to be offensive, whatever happens afterwards.

By the way, I wasn’t offended by the ad; I was offended by the incompetence of anyone in business and who lives in the US, especially post-Obama’s racialized 8 years, not immediately seeing how the ad was running over land mines. Now I must presume that the commenters who shrug it off aren’t ad executives and don’t make soap. They have an excuse. Dove doesn’t.


Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Marketing and Advertising, Race

53 responses to “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: “Ethics Dunce” Is Inadequate For Dove Soap [UPDATED]

  1. I…





  2. Wayne

    Obviously a racist plot meant to oppress people of color. 🙄

  3. There is also the very slight chance there was one or two trolls who are enjoying the show without much of the blame…

    • So a poorly executed attempt to display diversity…

    • Isaac

      If that’s the case they shouldn’t even have apologized. It’s a pretty classic example of taking a small portion of something out of context.

      Their statement should have been, “We showed three women of different ethnicities, with each woman taking off a t-shirt to reveal the next woman. Unfortunately we did not anticipate the sheer insanity of SJWs on Twitter, nor did we expect anyone to have so little of a social life as to consider cropping out 3 seconds of the footage, creating a false narrative around it, and getting it to go viral as part of their never-ending quest to Piltdown-Man themselves some institutionalized racism.”

    • Proper rewrite, brought up-to-date but perhaps just a wee-bit non-politically correct (?):

      “As part of a campaign to sell bath-products to milquetoast white people (and if some colored buy it, well, Why should we argue?), we un-intentionally indicated that a black woman could, if she used our products, learned to talk proper English and keep her legs closed, make some progress in the white-dominated universe. We do support this change from African primitivism, even with a change of clothes, a thin veneer and a whitish smile, and hope that all Blacks wherever they, from the local ghetto to Dakar, will dedicate themself to a white Jesus mind-frame and learn to serve civilization processes with less resistance, but we cannot, obviously, just come out and say it. Although if the truth be known we don’t care a damn about ‘diversity’ and are deeply suspicious of this economic and cultural model, still as an international company selling crap everywhere we have to pretend that we do. (So, no Heil Hitlers from us…) But in the three-second clip that everyone is falling down and twitching on the floor about, we admit lachrymoniously that we got the *&$#$% order mixed up! Should’ve been black woman to white woman (and then to whatever — like, who cares?) but instead some looser who works in our ad department got the order mixed up! (One little mistake, billions lost! Aaaaarrgggh! ) Be that as it may, we make good products that at least don’t burn your face off and earn tons of money from it. We will say and do anything to increase market-share (and would happily sell toilet products to Lucifer himself and the whole crowd of the Fallen if there was a dollar to make) and we hope you drooling fools will soon forget all this nonsense so we can get back to raking in the funds”.

      Yours very truly,


    • So the white girl transforms into a Hispanic girl…

      I donno. Maybe this is outrage over nothing?

      A poorly thought out ad but possibly just hypersensitivity aggravated by whoever spread this virally only spreading the single images of the balcony girl becoming a white girl…

      Not justifying the ad, but definitely not worth some of the people’s Twitter outrage.

      • I’m not outraged. I just don’t understand how ad execs, who are supposed to understand the culture they communicate to, could miss the implications of the first switch. The subsequent switch, which I hadn’t seen, does provide context, but not enough to change the problems with the first one.

        Ann Althouse, who also hadn’t seen the whole thing, guessed that the intent was like the Michael Jackson video Black and White. I guess. But he was talking about himself, not soap.

        • I didn’t mean to imply you were outraged. Just that I’ve noticed a deal of outrage. I wonder if the outrage would have been softened to mere criticism of an optics-blind ad if those who were outraged hadn’t based their outrage on the single frames lifted from the whole ad.

  4. It’s not the worst thing…

  5. Kyjo

    The ad is truthfully innocuous, but they ought to have recognized that having the white woman follow the black woman would elicit the negative response, however rationally unjustified that response might be.

    • Opal

      My immediate thoughts. If the order was reversed would the outrage be the same?

    • It’s not innocuous. The ancient slur against blacks is that their skin color means they are “dirty.” A soap ad with this transition evokes that racist slur, wherever it occurs.

      This is a growing trend in ads, to have content that literally has nothing to do with the product, so it’s memorable. The idiots who reviewed the ad didn’t catch the fact that the initial transformation evoked the production in a horrible way: a great soap can even turn a black woman white. The fact that the white woman then is cleansed into a Hiapaic woman is troubling from an entirely different perspective, but I won’t even get into that.

      • Kyjo

        I would stand by my description of the ad as “innocuous.” It seems clear Dove didn’t mean to suggest anything racist, and if the women were put in a different order or we didn’t have such a great extent of racial angst in our society, it wouldn’t have caused offense. Still, you’re absolutely right that someone should have realized the way the ad could be misinterpreted long before it was published. Inasmuch as the job of the marketing department is to create positive associations with the brand in the public imagination, this was clearly incompetent.

        • Straw man: nobody is suggesting that Dove intended to make a racist ad. The ethics issue is competence. That’s it. The ad is obviously asking for a racist interpretation, yet nobody n the chain saw it.

          • Kyjo

            I said the ad was innocuous. You said it wasn’t innocuous because it evokes a racist slur. But the only way to infer a racist slur is to cut off a third of the ad. I completely agree on the matter of competence; Dove’s marketers should have been able to anticipate this irrational reaction considering contemporary racial madness. I don’t agree, however, that the ad can reasonably be understood as racist. Thus I say the ad itself is innocuous.

            • I deleted the original denial that I had said that, because I did, and missed the comment when I was checking.

              I will, however stand by what I said: the ad evokes the ancient trop about soap turning dirty blacks into clean whites. Which it literally does. The subsequent sequence doesn’t alter the suggestion of the first transformation. It wasn’t intentional. It was careless and stupid. Which IS what I wrote. Exactly.

            • It obviously evokes the racial slur, because that’s the reason people were offended. In drama, you are playing a dangerous game when your create a context after an action that evokes a response before the context is complete. “What?” “Oh, I see…” doesn’t eliminate the message that prompted the “What???” Advertising 101. look at the old, intentionally racist ads posted in the thread. Are you seriously arguing that the first transformation DOESN’T evoke those ads?

              • Kyjo

                No, I don’t think it does that. For one thing, they’re removing shirts in the ad, not using soap. Am I supposed to understand that removing a shirt is a visual metaphor for washing with soap? There’s literally no visual connection between this Dove ad and the old racist soap ads. It doesn’t even evoke an image of washing in the first place. For another thing, the context of the full ad (all 3 seconds of it) has a white woman being replaced with a non-white woman when she removes her shirt. Is that evoking a racist slur? Obviously not. The only way any racist slur can even be inferred is by deliberately ignoring the last third of the ad, which is exactly how the racist misinterpretation got spread around the web. Sure, it was a sequence. But your argument seems like saying that the word “niggardly” isn’t innocuous because the first few sounds evoke a racist slur.

  6. Cleophus

    But that’s not the end of it. The white woman takes off her shirt revealing an Hispanic woman. Did you get suckered by fake news?

    • 1.) And then the Hispanic woman takes off her shirt and reveals…a man? A goat? A household appliance? That first part isn’t fake, and that is enough to ding the commercial.

      I would have liked to have seen the full sequence however. I can’t say it changes anything.

  7. Even in a social environment that hasn’t been intentionally divided by SJW’s along every freaking imaginable line possible, this ad would be absolutely stupid.

  8. But in fact the *culture-molding media* succeed in the opposite: they turn nice, clean-faced white girls into dubious rap-spewing and vulgar simulacra of naughty black girls. Overall, that has been one of the influences of black culture on white culture.

    The actual 3 second image is not in any sense offensive. The women given their small and symmetrical features are not really representative of the groups they represent. Except the white woman of course!

    The only thing that they got wrong (in order to have been accepted by being unnoticed) was the order of the change. The order was Black to White to Hispanic. In the Black to White sequence they set up a situation where offended, hysterical people could go into spasms. But they deliberately choose not to notice (or to care) that the white woman then turns into a Latina. Had they made the white woman change to a black woman first there would be no moral outrage (of course!)

    Myself, I would have more enjoyed it if a woman looking a lot like Michelle Obama but with African face paint and a bone through her nose would have dabbed on a bit of Dove soap and deshirted hereself into a woman looking quite a lot like Melanie Trump from her former model days. The music would change along with it from African rhythms to a Handel violin sonata. C’mon! that would have been much better! Then, the former woman is captured in a net by (white) UPS messengers slash hunters (dressed like Teddy Roosevelt) and put on the Black Star Liner.

    It seems possible that that might have produced a tiny bit more moral outrage.

  9. JutGory

    If only the black woman were wearing a Trump shirt; then, it would have validated every progressive’s view of conservative black women. Make Dove Great Again!

  10. Minor note: many sources are reporting that the third woman is Asian rather than Hispanic.

    • I’ve just received an update indicating that she is actually a transsexual, a combo of Jewish, Latina, Asian, American Indian, Polynesian with a small dash of Slavic. Oh Brave New World that has such people in it!

      So, kudos to Unilever for at least getting that right. It’s the Dove of Peace you see, the Venusian love-bird, the descending (more-or-less) holy spirit that turns a normal human being into Homo americanus.

  11. Rusty Rebar

    Lets not forget this one:

  12. Sue Dunim

    “I was offended by the incompetence of anyone in business and who lives in the US, especially post-Obama’s racialized 8 years, not immediately seeing how the ad was running over land mines”

    Ah. I knew it had to be all Obama’s fault. I was wondering how, but this explains it.

    Cue Mike Batt’s “The hunting of the Snark” as there is certainly Snark in my comment. And.. we don’t have enough levity in political discourse these days.

  13. Keith Walker

    I read this today. An interesting view on the subject – the one from the person actually in the ad…

    • Translation of that weird piece: “I am a victim, but I’m not a victim.” If she knew what the final ad would have been, she would have walked off the set, but her experience was positive, her friends loved the ad, and by the way, she’s a woman.

      This is why models seldom become PhDs.

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