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Social Media Fails and Tone-Deaf Dove

Marketers are humans (surprise!). As such, we all make mistakes. Even so, there are social media failures that seem too insane to be true. One that comes to mind is Dove’s “Transformation” ad in 2017. The campaign included a GIF published on Facebook that depicted a woman of color who removed her shirt and “transformed” into a white woman after using Dove soap.

Dove wanted to portray the idea that its body wash was appropriate for every woman and celebrated all races, but it missed the mark. The insensitive art, paired with the concept of “transformation,” was offensive to many. One would think that a large and experienced business, like Dove, would stop the ad before being published, but mistakes are inevitable in organizations of all sizes.  

Response to the campaign:

Many were rightfully outraged by the campaign. The ad was particularly shocking considering that Dove prides itself in being inclusive and often celebrates women of all sizes and physical attributes.

Social media platforms, particularly Twitter, erupted with complaints from customers offended by the campaign. The hashtag #boycottdove even started trending. Consumers called the campaign horrendous and a #prnightmare and a white supremacist group even responded by saying that they fully supported the campaign and that #whiteispurity. Engagement, shares, reactions, and involvement were high, but it was for the wrong reasons.

Dove’s “Transformation” campaign was an obvious disaster.

Audience Management:

All companies should be prepared for a crisis and should have an audience management strategy. Audience management is when companies source, manage, analyze, and activate customer data for campaigns. When done correctly, it allows businesses to reach the right people at the right time through the right channel and optimize outcomes. Proper audience management should prevent “tone deaf” campaigns from being published and allow companies to respond quickly and appropriately if something were to be misinterpreted.

After the campaign, Dove responded with a tweet in which the lamented the ad:

Dove’s apology was not enough, and many people were still hurting from the ad. The issue with inappropriate ads is that the backlash tends to follow the company for a long time. Additionally, we live in the era of cancel culture,” as such, as marketers, we must be cautious to prevent insensitive content from being published.

How to prevent similar social media nightmares:

It is not evident how many people were involved in the creation of the ad. Nevertheless, ideally, Dove should’ve checked the ad with multiple team members before publishing. This intensive review process should be enough to prevent insensitive content from being published, but perfection is never certain. Companies must be prepared to respond rapidly and make amends for their mistakes.

A solid social media marketing plan should be developed at least one month in advance and should be reviewed by multiple people before being published. Messages should be aligned with company values and should incentivize consumers to move along the purchasing funnel. Marketers should be aware of current events and cultural and social issues to ensure that the public does not misconstrue their ads. Brand voice and tone should also be consistent and respectful to all races, genders, sizes, and more.

As marketers, we should learn from our colleague’s mistakes. Of course, we are often inspired by marketers who did things “right,” but failures are just as necessary so that we can avoid them in the future.

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About the author: Gabriela Arocha is a Venezuelan marketer with a passion for human behavior. Currently based in Costa Rica, she uses her background in psychology to help professionals and organizations thrive through an optimized digital strategy. Visit her website or LinkedIn profile.

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