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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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In 2017, a report from The Guardian (Nicola Slawson, 2017) said that a British personal care brand Dove published a body wash advertisement on social media. The advertisement starts with an African-American woman wearing a brown coloured T-shirt. After the woman take off her T-shirt, she turned into a white woman in light coloured T-shirt. It seemed that the advertisement tried to tell the audience that this body wash will help to whiten their skin. However, the commercial has triggered a backlash by many internet users.

Although the actual message of the advertisement was unclear, the video went viral and became controversial few days after it was published. The image when the African-American woman turned into a White woman was “interpreted by many as perpetuating the stereotype that black was "dirty" and white was "pure."” (Priyanka Pant, 2017).

According to “The Guardian”, this controversial commercial video has been removed from social media. However, it was already too late as there are people very upset about the act Dove did. A lot of consumers decided to boycott the products Dove, as they think Dove was insulting the Black people that their skin colour is not pure. As the flame from the internet users getting stronger, Dove made an apology statement via Facebook and Twitter, stated that they have already remove the commercial, and they felt guilty if they have offended anyone. Many internet users did not accept Dove's apology, as they felt that they were not sincere enough and they still owed an explanation about the message from the advertisement.

The commercial from Dove involved in the media ethical issue of Racism, as the commercial makes use of an African-American woman to symbolise the people who never use Dove's body wash to take care of their skin. This was seen as a very rude content. In addition, the content is also very deceitful, as it is impossible to turn a black skin into a white skin. The main purpose of Dove's product is to take care of their skin, but the commercial over-illustrates the purpose of the product. In addition, the commercial did not have a real message for the audience, hence misleading many of the audiences.

The creative director of this advertisement has broken the value of human rights. Making fun or insulting one's race is a sensitive and serious issue. When the creative director make use of the content that involves with another race to help publicise the product, it will anger the certain race. This is also violating the human rights.

For example, on 2013, Dunkin Donut in Thailand published an advertisement which featured a woman in “blackface” make up. The purpose of this advertisement was to promote their “Charcoal Donut”, however it turned out becoming a controversy. According to a news report from “The Guardian” reported by Adam Gabbatt (2013), the advertisement “was called “bizarre and racist” by a leading human rights group.” This issue was so serious that the Human Rights Watch warned that the commercial can cause chaos if it was showed in the United States.

Even though the content which involves in race like Dunkin Donut's advertisement seemed not a problem, if the message was not clear or the content contains stereotypes, it can cause many consequences. This is because “Racism and discrimination is so powerful that it can cause fear or hatred of others during the situation of conflict and war, as well as during the economic downturns” (Anup Shah, 2010). Hence, many multi-ethnicity nations have imposed law about racism, so that it will prevent one race anger another race and cause the racial conflict that harms the interest and peace of the country.

In addition, the creative director has broken the value of respect. When comes to respect, it also means treating everybody fairly in any circumstances, especially when comes to races. By respecting each other's race, it not only achieve the common goal together, but also prevent any relationship damage. However, when the advertisement from Dove was being publicised, this actually tell the audience that black skin is a very bad thing, hence by using the product will make the consumer look beautiful. As the audiences African-American etnicity, they will feel demoralized.

As a creative director for this commercial, he is responsible for all of the duties owed. Firstly, he needs to be upholding the duty of organization. Because he is a creative director for his media organization, he needs to do his job for the sake of his company's profit. If the creative director rejected this project, his company will lose money, and he will have to bear the consequences for rejecting Dove's project.

Secondly, he needs to uphold the duty of his profession. As a Creative Director, he has the duty to make sure that the content for Dove's product is very appealing and attractive to the audiences. The creative director will be seen as not doing his job seriously, if the content in the commercial does not able to appeal the customers.

Lastly, he needs to uphold his duty for his clients. This is because the client is able to pay a lot of money for the product marketing, hence the creative director has to create a content that will attract the consumers into their eye. If the content was not a good one, Dove may not look for the media company for commercial again, and this will make the company lose an opportunity to make money.

However, as this content is very sensitive, he needs to take the responsibility to the society. This is because many countries' demographics are also comprising of different ethnics and races. He needs to understand that if he is using such content, it will definitely anger a lot of people of other races. He may also have to face the consequences of being hated by the society.

In addition, he also need to be responsible to his own self. The Creative Director needs to have the intergrity and conscience to make sure whatever he do is good for himself and the people. If he knows that such content will anger a lot of people, as well as letting people of particular race feel offended, he will feel bad for himself. However, as he needs to maintain his professionalism and help in the career, he has no choice but to do something that upset a lot of people.

If I am the creative director for this advertisement, I will be very struggled as I need to follow the assignment given by my employer, in order to allow me to keep the job. However, at the same time, I need to be considerate towards the other races as well. If I make this content for the commercial, it not only being hated by other people, but also cause tensions between different races.

This advertisement involves in the principle of Rawl's Veil of Ignorance. This ethical principle which was proposed by American Philosopher John Rawls, says that we always need to be fair, never provide a bias stand regardless of race, gender or age. When comes to producing a content for media, we should always need to treat people with all the same, without stereotyping other people. Veil of Ignorance was used to represent equality, hence “representing the parties to the hypothetical social contact purely in their capacity as free and equal moral persons” (Ai-Thu Dang, 2015, p. 5).

According to Ethics Unwrapped from the University of Texas (2017), there are 2 primary principles in Veil of Ignorance: Liberty Principle and Difference Prinicple, and this commercial falls under the Difference Principle. It means that “the social contract should guarantee that everyone an equal opportunity to prosper” (Ethics Unwrapped, 2017). This means that if we wanted to achieve something that brings good for us in common, we need to learn how to treat each other fairly. For instance, if the creative director who produced Dove's advertisement understand the importance of treating every race fairly, they wouldn't have to be standing in such difficult situation.

As the content of the advertisement shows no fairness to the minor ethncities, hence based on Rawl's Veil of Ignorance, this advertisement is unethical.

The advertisement also involves in the principle of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, or Mill's Principle of Utility, is a ethical prinicple founded by British Philosopher John Stuart Mill in 1861. This is to see how much benefit and harm will affect everyone's lives, just by doing a certain action. So that we will be able to choose an alternative to bring more benefits than harm, and bring happiness to most of the people. According to John Stuart, he stated (Christians, Fackler, Richardson, Kreshel, Woods, 2016, p. 13) that “happiness was the sole end of human action and the test by which all conduct ought to be judged”. Hence, by using this principle, we are able to know whether or not the benefit outweighs the harm in this advertisement.

In terms of benefits, this content in the advertisement is able to attract attention of the people. By using a black woman and a white woman to illustrate the usage of the product, the consumers will be very curious about the product whether or not it will help to whiten one's skin.

However, it brings harm to many people by using this content for the advertisement. Firstly, it created a false message to the audience. This is because many audience may thought that even a Black People can whiten their skin, by using this product. Secondly, it also created a wrong impression to the children. When the children see such content, it may cause racism to be developed within themselves. Lastly, the advertisement may cause tensions between different races. When the affected minority race saw such media content, they will think that the majority race group is insulting their race. This causes hatred towards each other. In addition, racial tension will also destroy the peace in the country, resulting of destroying reputation and economy of the nation.

Based on the analysis above, it shows that this content has more harm than benefits. Hence, based on the Principle of Utility, this advertisement is unethical.

In conclusion, I find that Dove's body wash advertisement is very unethical. The values of human rights and respect are all broken in this issue. Doing such content on the advertisement will help the company to make money, as well as fulfill his duty as a creative director. However, he did not fulfill the duty to the society and his conscience. In the end, the creative director not only feel bad, the advertisement has also make a lot of people upset. Lastly, by applying the two principles of ethics, which is Rawl's Veil of ignorance and Mill's Principle of Utility, this media content is unethical. Hence, considering the four values of the potter box, if I am the creative director for advertisement, I will not do the same thing that is unethical.

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