How Dove Could Have Avoided a PR Disaster: The Case for Diversity in the Workplace

Whether it be in the video we’re creating or the print advertisement we’re placing, thoughtfully representing people of varying backgrounds should be one of the top concerns for advertisers. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. There are many notable examples of ads that were scrutinized for how they portrayed people of color, or worse yet, how they didn’t include them at all.

Take this ad from Dove, where a black woman transforms into a white woman by taking off her skin-colored shirt.

How many people of color do you think were part of the approval process? It’s impossible to know for sure without being a part of the Dove team or the agency that developed the ad, but I imagine that there were few, if any, people of color who approved the distribution of this ad.

The next example is the now infamous Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner, where the model ends a Black Lives Matter-style protest by handing police officers a can of Pepsi.

This was clearly a tone deaf and offensive ad, and yet, it still got through the approval process. Again, how many people of color were in the room when this ad was approved?

Diversity in the workplace is a sensitive and delicate issue for many. Simply saying that these disastrous ad examples would have been avoided if people of color were part of the approval process over-simplifies the issue. It’s not enough to put people of color in leadership roles. People of color need to be in all roles at every level of an organization.

Imagine if an account specialist at the agency that created the Pepsi ad spoke up and said, “this is offensive.” That might have been enough to stop the production of the ad, and save Pepsi from wasting millions of dollars on a doomed idea.

Or if a vice president at Dove was a person of color and saw the ad of a black woman transforming into a white woman, they might have flagged the issue immediately in the conceptual stage.

My point is that it’s not enough to say that we want to see increased diversity in advertising, it’s something we have to practice. From the break room to the board room, people of color need to be a part of the decision making and approval process. This is not just to avoid disastrous PR blunders, but to ensure that all people feel properly represented in advertising.

After all, marketers have a powerful role. We can influence people to buy a product, vote for a candidate, or see an issue from a different perspective. That power should not be taken lightly, and we should seek to involve as many different perspectives, attitudes, socio-economic backgrounds, and yes, skin colors, as possible.