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Why advertisers should stay away from ambiguity

An advert shared by Dove on Facebook depicts a black woman transforming into a white woman, seemingly after using a Dove product. Picture: Twitter

An advert shared by Dove on Facebook depicts a black woman transforming into a white woman, seemingly after using a Dove product. Picture: Twitter

Published Oct 15, 2017

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Johannesburg - Branding and advertising experts are warning companies to be more circumspect and ensure what they want to communicate is not misinterpreted, in the wake of the Dove advert that sparked outrage on social media.

The three-second video clip was recently posted on the Dove Facebook page in America. It featured three women of different ethnicities, each removing a t-shirt to reveal the next woman. Dove has apologised and removed the advert which was deemed discriminatory, saying: “What we intended to convey is that Dove body wash is for every woman, but we got it very wrong.”

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Branding and advertising expert Andy Rice weighed in on the culture of advertising in South Africa following the social media backlash.

“SA has a reputation for some distinctive advertising. That’s not to say that local advertising is steeped in local culture. Many of the strongest advertisements for big brands recognise the environment and the culture,” he said.

Rice explained there is difference between talking and listening and between broadcasting and receiving. So what the advertiser said in their mind and what they thought they were saying was not what certain members of the audience heard when they were listening. So the challenge of making sure the message is received is where the campaign fell down.

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“Unilever and Dove had a clear intention to say this product is for all skin types, for all women, no matter your social background and they thought that was an uncontentious statement they were making, but some of the receivers saw in it a different message."

“In the process of it being produced, there were plenty of opportunities where they could’ve seen that what they were communicating would be misinterpreted. If they’d asked themselves those questions, they would have never made that piece of work.”

Social media has become a platform to call out brand campaigns that miss the mark, trend translator and future finance specialist for Flux Trends, Bronwyn Williams, says. A whiff of controversy can spread like wildfire on social media.

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“What is more, the internet never forgets. In the past, a brand could pull a bad ad off television and it would be forgotten. Today, screen shots live forever on angry blogs.”

Loeries CEO Andrew Human believes society and social media are going too far in condemning communications every time they offend someone. “Advertisers are becoming scared to offend anyone with the result that ads are becoming safe, pedestrian - and boring.”

“Today, brands have to be incredibly careful when trying to pander to a fiercely politically correct ‘woke’ Generation Z target market that they do not misread the subtleties within that market.”

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“In the age of social media and screenshots, brands need to be particularly aware of how their messages can look when viewed frame by frame and out of context."

“Effect matters more than intent,” said Williams.

@LesegoMakgatho

Sunday Independent 

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