In my line of work, I often talk and write about ads that I feel are culturally clueless or offensive, but alas, I don't believe that the Dove ad qualifies for that group.
The suggestion that Dove might be trying to express some subliminal message about beauty by showing the progression of skin tone from dark to light is the kind of desperate-for-controversy stretch that usually sends my eyes rolling.
Generally, when an advertiser gets into trouble, it is because they have strayed unconsciously into perpetuating a stereotype or sometimes slyly and cynically trying to exploit those perceptions. In this case, however, there is no racist stereotype that would help Dove sell the benefits of its moisturizer. If anything, the colloquial truism that "black don't crack" would suggest that black people naturally possess ageless, moist skin and have little need for their product.
It's been my experience that when an ad is racist there's no need to debate guilt or innocence. The offense is usually pretty obvious on its face, at least to the group being offended. So if black people (or whichever aggrieved group) isn't entirely sure if the ad might be racist, that's a pretty good indication to me that it's not.
In my opinion, the Dove ad is guilty only of being painfully mediocre. The ad is for a moisturizer; if you want to showcase beautiful, young-looking skin, perhaps it is a good idea to have three different attractive models. But then why are they standing ten feet from the camera? I can barely tell that they have skin, much less judge its quality.
If your main point is to feature the (before & after) product demo, having three models is both distracting and confusing and creates unnecessary questions rather than answers. And they have taken the product demo and removed it from any human context and turned it into a pointless abstraction. Giant patches of skin on the wall is only compelling if you're watching 'Silence of the Lambs.'