Understanding the media is important for effective political discussion

Students should consider the social implications of an advertisement before passing judgement

Earlier this month, Dove released an advertisement on Facebook for body wash that depicted several women of different skin colors removing their shirts to reveal another person underneath. 

However, this concept of inclusivity faltered as one of the transformations involved an African-American woman removing her shirt to reveal a caucasian woman.

The advertisement elicited significant backlash over social media, causing Dove to remove the ad and issue a public apology for the racial insensitivity. 

The ad itself was actually intended to be inclusive of multiple ethnicities, involving more than just a dark-skin-to-light-skin transformation. It was simply the one frame that caught flame with social media users, possibly because people were quick to call it blatant racism when it was, in reality, latent.

When reacting to an advertisement, it is important to recognize the full picture, although there may be flaws in the execution.

Matthew Delmont, director and professor for ASU's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, explained the need for more diversity in marketing teams.

“When you see the image that was circulating down social media, it’s very easy to see why some people were upset about it,” Delmont said. “It’s always surprising when these kinds of things come out from advertising that no one reviewed it or nobody realized that there’s something kind of amiss about this. It shows the importance of having diversity within the agency and the marketing profession as well.”

Nevertheless, the error on Dove’s part doesn't necessarily mean that the people involved had racist intentions.

Sharon Bramlett-Solomon, an associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said that racism in advertising may simply be inadvertent.

“Personally, I have not seen in my research any indication of deliberate racism in American advertising in modern times,” Bramlett-Solomon said. “However, I’ve seen a number of faux pas and people who dropped the ball and who unfortunately did not deliver the intended message in advertising. Unfortunately, Dove and the companies have dropped the ball are the ones that are making a difference." 

"Dove, in my view, has reflected social consciousness and they have done so for the past decade, designing ads with women of color and diverse sizes.”

Still, that is not to say that a certain bias does not exist in advertising.

“In every society on the planet, the lighter you are, the more valued and more privileged you are,” Bramlett-Solomon said. “There’s this coveted idea that light is better – we’re trying to move away from this stereotype because it makes a lot of women suffer.”

Some people were extremely reactive to the advertisement, which shows society is paying attention.

"People should be vigilant,” Bramlett-Solomon said. “They should be aware of media at all levels, and how images in media can promote systemic and institutional racism. Media literacy is very important but unfortunately in American society, students don’t get media literacy as a course and as an area of concern to consider.”

It is important for students to learn how to interpret various forms of media by exposing themselves to different forms of marketing strategies and their social implications. 

Reach the columnist at kalbal@asu.edu or follow @KarishmaAlbal on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 500 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.