Campaign of the Week

5 December 2023

Dove takes its crusade against race-based hair discrimination into the world of video game design 

The personal care brand creates a free guide for coding Black hairstyles in video games

Recent research by Dove has found that 85% of Black gamers believe video games poorly represent textured hair. At the same time, nine out of 10 developers admit there is a lack of resources for coding natural/textured hair.

To improve the representation of Black hairstyles in games, Dove, working with agency Edelman, UK, has partnered with the Open Source Afro Hair Library for the Code My Crown campaign – a free guide for coding Black hairstyles in video games.

Created by Black artists, Code My Crown is an instructional guide for coders and developers to code more diverse, true-to-life, depictions of Black hairstyles in 3D. It is free for anyone to download at Dove.com/CodemyCrown.

Open Source Afro Hair Library founder AM Darke said in a statement: ‘In the real world, there is an incredible variety of Black hairstyles. But this is rarely reflected in the gaming world. When Black hair is absent from the games we play or are consistently low-quality, it communicates that Black players and our culture are an afterthought, that our stories aren't worth telling.’

In support of the initiative, a team of Black 3D artists, animators, programmers and academics developed 15 original hair designs that can lay the foundation for hundreds of virtual hair possibilities. The designs include step-by-step instructions, 360-degree photo mapping, and cultural insights so that developers can better model textured hair and styles in video games.

Leandro Barreto, senior vice president, global, Dove Masterbrand, said in a press release: ‘We believe every single person should see their beauty represented in the world around them – this is no different for the virtual world. The importance of accurately and respectfully depicting textured hair in video games cannot be overstated, and we are proud to play a small part in taking action to set a new standard for diversity and representation in video games.’

Contagious Insight 

Purpose power / Dove is a pro at turning advocacy into action, not just with its Campaign for Real Beauty platform but with hair too. In 2019, it co-founded the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) coalition to end race-based hair discrimination in the US. So far, 24 states have passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits hair-based discrimination at work and school.

It also has form advocating for diversity and inclusion in the virtual world, most notably for last year’s Real Virtual Beauty campaign, where it pledged to train game creators, developers and artists to create a broader, more diverse and more realistic representation of women in gaming. Code My Crown is a wonderful confluence of inclusion, diversity and gaming.

Speaking to Contagious about the campaign, Melle Hock, US chief strategy officer at Edelman, said: ‘Dove deeply understands what it stands for – and takes action to prove it. The brand’s clarity and commitment makes it easier as agency partners to find the right creative opportunities and accelerate them in culture. Edelman proactively identified a need to infiltrate the gaming space specifically as it pertains to natural hair… The creative team that brought this forward is part of the community that is being addressed by this work. They are big gamers. They saw how the Sims was being embraced by the gaming community for doing natural hair well – and they saw how others were not. Involving AM Darke, Open Source Afro Hair Library, as well academics and stylists was critical. We aimed to create utility and beauty with a tool that would generate true impact for the gaming world. This wasn’t just a campaign, it’s a commitment.’

Such activations ensure its Campaign for Real Beauty brand positioning feels fresh and relevant – no mean feat, given it is nearly two decades old. It’s a textbook example of the power of purpose and gives Dove the right to speak about diversity and gaming. 

Powerful partnerships / Purpose isn’t the only thing that gives Dove the right to turn up, the right partnerships power these campaigns too. For The Crown Act, Dove teamed with National Urban League, Color of Change and the Western Center on Law & Poverty to create the CROWN coalition. Meanwhile, for Real Virtual Beauty, it joined forces with Unreal Engine (a 3D graphics game engine developed by Epic Games) and Women in Games, which seeks equity and parity for all women and girls in the video games industry and esports. Here, the personal care brand’s partnership with the Open Source Afro Hair Library ensured that Black coders created the toolkit and that the enterprise was fully informed and properly engaged in addressing the issue. Speaking to beauty organisation CEW, Open Source Afro Hair Library founder AM Darke said: ‘We’re providing digital designers with a better understanding of the when, why, and how of using a particular hairstyle in a game. It’s thinking about the context in which a character with that hairstyle is represented. In real life, we put so much time and effort into the maintenance and care of our Black hair, and now, we’re able to depict more of the versatility of Black hair in the virtual world.’​​​​​​​

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