After Dove pulled a tone-deaf ad, people are still baffled and calling for a boycott

A far reach.
A far reach.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
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A new ad from Dove had a short life before criticism online forced the Unilever soap and skin-care company to take it down.

On Friday (Oct. 6) afternoon in the US, Dove released a brief ad that showed a smiling black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a smiling white woman, who then pulled her shirt off to reveal a third smiling woman. A makeup artist posted screenshots of the gif on Facebook, which apparently struck a nerve with the 10,000 people who shared it. The next day, the company pulled it.

On Saturday Dove apologized on Twitter:

The apology didn’t sit well with people who see a pattern in Dove’s ads. Now people are calling for a boycott on Twitter, about a tweet per minute at time of this writing, using #boycottdove.

In the gif ad, each woman appears with a bottle of Dove body wash. The video was “intended to convey that Dove Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity,” says Dove in a statement. But people who took issue with the ad on Facebook took away a rather different message: That a black person can become white, i.e. clean and pure, by using Dove soap.

The ad is indeed surprising for a company that markets itself as identity inclusive, to varying degrees of success. It’s the kind of tone deafness common in beauty products sold in China, India, and Thailand, where companies run ads for toothpaste, face cream, and laundry detergent that use black actors as proxies for dirtiness.