How to Lose Customers Faster than You Can Say “Whoops”: Design Blunders

by Morgan Whalen

Today, I bring you offensive designs. I’m sure these designers meant well, but something went very wrong along the way.

Recently, the Internet has been up in arms over an ad for Dove moisturizer. You can almost see the thought process behind this ad: “We’ll put three happy women standing around smiling in their towels, and, to explain why they’re so happy, we’ll have giant images of skin behind them!”

Simple right?

Dove Controversy

Dove Ad

The final message is interpreted differently. It comes off more as an ad for skin lightening cream, since the woman with the darkest skin tone stands under the “Before” and the palest women is positioned under the “After.”

Plenty of blogs, including Jezebel, Copyranter and Buzzfeed, have helped circulate the image and fuel the controversy. Although voters on the Calgary Herald website have voted that the ad is more harmless than offensive, the controversy does not bode well for Dove, who has released an official statement that the ad was not intended to be racist.

This ad should be straightforward: moisturizer heals dry skin and makes you feel better. But, in the world of visual messaging, it is unfortunately easy to veer away from the intended message.

Oreo Barbie

Oreo Barbie

In another case of design gone wrong, Mattel joined forces with Oreo to make a cookie-themed Barbie in 1997.

The Barbie was sold in two different skin tones, a light-skinned and dark-skinned version. Once the doll was released, the African-American community did not receive it well. Since the term “Oreo” is considered offensive to many African-American people, the reception of the doll was less than positive. A Mattel spokesperson credited the controversy to “adult baggage,” suggesting that kids would not make the same associations. Mattel ultimately chose to take the doll of the shelves. Ironically, because of the retraction, the doll is now as good as gold for collectors.This is certainly not the first, or even the most recent, example of controversial skin colour issues for Barbie. Questionable pricing schemes may not have been chosen by Mattel, but it does not reflect well on the company. Since the first black Barbie,  Francie, the dolls have been criticized for having “white features.”

The moral seems clear. Think designs through before execution; images can have more impact than words.  When marketing to the masses, it is important to think about how people from many different communities will interpret the messaging. Sometimes, a little shock value can work in your favour, but bad taste never will.

Morgan Whalen is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto where she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Innis Review and an editor at the Innis Herald

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