March 12, 2019

Brands still find themselves in hot water over their representation of black people. This is why

Skincare company Dove is the latest company to face the wrath of consumers. It is facing a social media backlash, following the release of a still from a three-second video clip that was posted on its US Facebook page. The video showed women of different races taking off their shirts to reveal other women. The image circulating the Internet showed a black woman removing a T-shirt to reveal a white woman.

A number of people took to social media to show their displeasure, arguing that the advert played into stereotypes that black women looked better if they achieved a more Eurocentric standard of beauty.

Lebo Motshegoa, the MD of Foshizi, a mass market research and strategy organisation, says there are a number of reasons why advertisers still get it wrong when marketing to black consumers, abroad and locally. The biggest reason is a lack of research.

He explains: “You need to get a a credible research company that can actually do the research. Most advertising agencies are reluctant to employ researchers because there is a sense that they interfere with the creative process. The advertising agencies tend to disregard ad testing because it looks as if their work has been audited,” he says.

Gone are the days were companies could exclude themselves from current discourse. Motshegoa makes an example of the heightened race relations, both locally and abroad. Dove is not the first company to draw ire online for its representations of black people. Appletiser, a local beverage brand, received criticism from consumers for a 2015 advert featuring black and white women with the tagline: “Every brunette needs a blonde best friend.” Most consumers took it to mean that every black person needs a white companion to make it in life.

In the same year, LEGiT, an apparel company, was in the firing line for its Don’t Judge campaign, which featured an older, wealthy-looking man standing next to a young woman. Those against the campaign argued that it played into “blesser culture” and negatively represented young black women.

Dove has apologised, admitting that it missed the mark with the advert. “An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offence it caused,” it tweeted.

What could have prevented something like this from happening in the first place is the diversification of advertising agencies, argues Motshegoa.

“Within advertising and agencies themselves, there is no diversity in various departments, one being the creative department,” he says.

Having a diverse team means companies can pick up on nuances within different cultures. The creators of the Dove advert would have been alerted to the scourge of skin bleaching in black communities and known that the advert can be misconstrued to be in support of the practice.

Motshegoa argues that having one or two black people on the team is not enough, because diversity exists even within the black community.

“Black people are different – you could be hiring a black person from Bryanston who doesn’t have the same challenges as somebody growing up in Diepsloot or Alexandra,” he explains, adding that those people also need to be given a platform to provide invaluable insight.

In a previous interview with DESTINY, marketing guru Donna Rachelson said it was inevitable that a company would miss the mark at some point – its reaction is what matters.

“I understand that one of the brands deleted negative comments they received online – that is criminal. Once you are going out with something and it starts an engagement and debates, you as a brand need to engage with that debate,” she said.

Motshegoa notes that Dove has done some stellar work in the past to highlight the diversity of beauty, and can still push the conversation about diversity and representation foreword.

“What the consumer wants is for you to be humble… It’s not just about PR. It also about going out and admitting that we need to make changes within our organisation so that this does not happen again,” he says.

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