Dove adverts won’t wash well in Middle East

Dove was forced to apologize for a body wash advert in which a black woman appears to turn white after using the product. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2017
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Dove adverts won’t wash well in Middle East

LONDON: Beauty brand Dove’s flopped body lotion campaign offers stern lessons for regional advertisers, according to Middle East marketing experts.
The personal care brand, which is owned by Anglo-Dutch firm Unilever, was globally derided on social media for releasing a series of “racist” images that appeared to show a black woman turning white after using the body lotion.
James Reynolds, founder of Dubai-based digital marketing agency SEOSherpa.com, told Arab News that the furor could have been avoided if Dove had considered the context in which the advert would be seen.
He said: “They failed to consider how the message would transfer across all forms of content.”
The social media video, which has now been removed, saw a black woman peeling off her T-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath her skin. However, the longer 30-second TV advert also revealed a white woman undressing to reveal an Asian woman.
Reynolds said: “In its longest form — a 30-second TV commercial — the advert was well received. However, when clipped to three seconds (on Facebook), the ad took on a very different narrative.
“As content creators, we in the Gulf need to consider how our content will be repurposed across all channels by us and by others — and how that can affect the storyline.”
Agreeing with Reynolds, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff wrote in a column for UK current affairs magazine New Statesman: “If this version of the advert had been shared from the very beginning, the response may not have been as swift and sharp as it was. There was also apparently a second, longer advert — a 30 second TV commercial which showed seven women,” she said.
The black woman in the advert, Lola Ogunyemi told The Guardian newspaper that she had a positive experience with the Dove team and that she believes that the objective of the ad was to highlight that all skin is deserving of gentleness. But that doesn’t mean the original concerns aren’t valid, Brinkhurst-Cuff said.
Brinkhurst-Cuff added: “For years and years, black women have been told our skin color is unclean, dirty, something to be fixed. A solvable problem. It could be predicted that black women watching the advert would pick up an insinuation that by using Dove’s shower gel product you can ‘rectify’ your skintone.”
Austyn Allison, editor of marketing magazine Campaign Middle East, called out Dove for “going straight back to the Stone Age with an ad that was just plain racist.”
Allison said: “I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be — no one sits down to write a racist ad — and it was probably meant to be inclusive as women from different ethnicities show they are as one.
“But just that change from black to white around a cleaning product is fraught with history and connotation and memories of racism that will never go away. Especially at a time when black people are being killed by police as the ‘alt right’ rises in the US and one of the world’s best known PR agencies has destroyed itself by stirring racial tensions in South Africa.
“Now is not a time to be insensitive to race.”
Reynolds suggested that in the future Dove, and all brands, would do well to “test small before rolling out big.”
“I’d recommend using focus groups and then testing on a small audience before pushing advertising out to a wider audience,” the digital marketing expert said.
Following the global furor, Dove swiftly removed the adverts and apologized on Twitter: “An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused,” it said.
Stephen Han, founder of Dubai-based Han Global Consulting, believes Dove’s misjudgment stems from “what is fundamentally a matter of respect and inclusion.”
He told Arab News: “I’m working with a client right now on developing their go-to-market marketing strategy and inclusion is necessarily a core value of any brand that wants to connect with today’s society.
“From an organizational standpoint, it’s not enough to avoid ‘bad things’. Only the pursuit of diversity can preclude the next major faux pas. It must happen at the top first and it must be genuine. The opportunity cost of making an inadvertent mistake is too great to ignore.”
Han said that while Dove has clearly “striven for diversity” in its campaigns, these values must be more deeply embedded in the company to be effective.
He added: “I’m sure they did strive for diversity. But who’s the ‘they’ who were striving? Was it a diverse team? Who was approving the campaign? Was it a diverse executive team? Were people of color fairly represented at the review and approval level? Was the video storyboarded by a diverse team?“


Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.