Outcry over ‘racist’ Nivea ad: critics call for diversity in advertising industry

Nivea, one of the world’s most well-known skin care companies, faced backlash on Twitter and Facebook after running an advertisement for a new deodorant product which many social media users quickly labeled as racist.

The image — since deleted — was originally posted on Nivea’s Middle East Facebook page, showing a woman facing towards a window surrounded by white linen and walls. The slogan written underneath stated, “White is Purity.”

The company captioned this photo, “Keep it clean, keep it bright. Don’t let anyone ruin it, #invisible” — and it quickly came under criticism by Facebook and Twitter users.

People across the globe responded to the German skincare company’s insensitive marketing tactics, taking to social media to call the company out for its lack of diversity.

Shade Adu, a personal brand strategist and student at the University of Wisconsin tweeted directly to the company, stating “#Nivea, who in yall marketing department thought that your latest ad was a good idea. #diversitymatters.”

Adu, in an email interview, said the episode shows why diversity in the advertising industry is needed.

“This is not cool,” she said. “There are a ton of racial undertones in this advertisement”

Adu prides herself on her active voice in diversity issues. “I remain vocal about these issues,” she said. “I do social media marketing and I study gender and race issues as a doctoral student. This is embedded in my life’s work.”

Maggie Fesenmair, a media scholar and PhD candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington, was also shocked by the content of Nivea’s advertisement.

“How could this have possibly been made into a campaign?” Fesenmair said in an email interview.

“It also indicates a larger societal problem,” Fesenmair said.“Maybe having more people in the room or a more diverse team would have caught this advertisement before posting.”

After the global criticism, the company removed the advertisement and released a statement of apology.

“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific post. After realizing that the post is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn.

But it wasn’t good enough for Twitter user Auria P. Moore, who said, “Ugh. #Nivea continues to promote #racism in their ads, then apologize. So much bad #marketing these days, smh #blacktwitter #Pepsi.”

It’s not the first time that Nivea has received criticism for having “racist” advertisements. In 2011, the company also received backlash for their “Look Like You Give a Damn” campaign which included an advertisement showing an black man and the slogan “Re-Civilize Yourself.”

The image featured the man discarding an unkempt mask of himself to reveal a clean-shaven face. An advertisement for the same product was run with a white male, but included a different caption which read “Sin City isn’t an excuse to look like Hell.”

The company withdrew the 2011 advertisement after numerous complaints and released an apology stating, “This ad was inappropriate and offensive. It was never our intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company.”

Twitter user Sahar Mali was quick to catch the resemblance between the two ads. “Six years between these two ads and it seems #Nivea still hasn’t hired a black person to join their PR team,” she tweeted.

With these recurring issues, Adu and Fesenmair said it’s clear that Nivea’s advertising department needs to increase diversity among its decision makers.

“They need people of color and women of color at the decision-making table,” Adu said. “Most of these companies are white male dominated and there is a major need for diversity.”

“Scholars know that employing diverse employees leads to diverse opinions and ways of attacking a problem,” Fesenmair said, “So, my suggestion is make sure that you hire many different people.”

Although Adu was disappointed by the advertisement, she sees Twitter and Facebook as ways to keep international companies in check.

“Get on social media and shame these companies into action,” Adu said. “We have a powerful tool at our disposal. We must keep the dialogue going. We can’t just stop when the next hot topic arises.”