Organizational blind spots: Dove soap campaign

The recent hugely insensitive advertisement by Unilever for their Dove soap is a textbook example of organizational blind spots.

This is a painful example of why the voices of minorities and staff at all levels of the organization must be invited, included, raised up and empowered to influence decision making. Leaders’ blind spots are overcome by diversity, courageous followership and, when needed, intelligent disobedience.

Ira Chaleff


Dove had good intentions with a three-second Facebook ad posted over the weekend. What the skin care brand got instead was backlash for racial insensitivity. Unilever North America President Kees Kruythoff called the incident “hugely painful” during a Smith School visit on Tuesday. He provided insights on what went wrong and outlined steps forward for his marketing teams.

Karen Johnson, Editor


Anatomy of the Dove Ad Backlash

The full-length Dove ad uses seven models of various ethnic and racial backgrounds to promote the advantages of a new sulfate-free body wash. But a shorter, three-second version features just two. It shows a black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman. Kruythoff, a CEO@Smith keynote speaker, acknowledged the bad optics. “We wanted to communicate that it’s absolutely better for whatever skin type you have,” he said. “And then we made an absolute huge mistake.”

Blind spot: Kruythoff said the company is looking at its process for vetting marketing content. “So obviously we have it wrong in how we test it,” he said. “We obviously don’t have enough diversity in our marketing techniques, because otherwise we would have picked this up.”

Never-ending journey: Unilever maintains gender equity in its global workforce and on its Board of Directors, but Kruythoff said diversity initiatives must go beyond gender. “This execution shows again that there are further steps to be done in that journey,” he said. Read more on WAMU…

Additional coverage: “People with purpose, they thrive,” Kruythoff told the Smith School students. As you navigate your career, he told them, ask yourself these three questions. Read more…

Kees Kruythoff, Unilever President, North Americas, talks on Oct. 10, 2017, at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

2017 © Tony Richards
University of Maryland

Organizational blind spots: Dove soap campaign
2017 © Ira Chaleff Publications