Nivea USA, maker of skin care products, boosted its profile this week, but not in a civilized way.
An ad in Esquire magazine showed a clean-cut black man ready to heave a dark-skinned head with long locks and an unkempt beard, with the words, “Re-civilize yourself.” Reactions fanned across the Web, with accusations ranging from racism and ignorance to we’re-reading-too-much-into-this.
“Are you suggesting that Black men are uncivilized to begin with? There is too much history rooted in reducing Black people to comparisons to apes, monkeys, etc.,” wrote one blogger.
Another comment, under an Advertising Age article about the tempest, said, “There is more racism in the assumptions necessary to interpret the ad as racist than in the copy itself.”
(A similar ad image, but with a white man and no reference to re-civilizing, garnered no such blowback.)
Heeding the din, Nivea USA apologized for the ad, which promoted skin care products for men.
A spokesman for the Nivea’s parent company, Germany's Beiersdorf AG, passed along this mea culpa: “We are deeply sorry for a recent ‘Re-civilized’ NIVEA For Men ad. This ad was inappropriate and offensive. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values at Beiersdorf and we do not tolerate insensitivity. It was never our intention to offend anyone and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again.”
Usually companies love free buzz, even when it’s not wholly positive. But Nivea’s misstep may leave a sour taste for some prospective customers.
Of course, Nivea isn't the latest company to get flak over racial insensitivities. Earlier this year an ad for Dove body wash stirred controversy for showing a black woman in front of a "before" skin panel and a white women in front of the "after."
The makers of Dove stood by the ad and said it had been misinterpreted. When we last looked, the ad was still on the company’s website.