Nivea Get Civilizedby Lindokuhle Nkosi / 22.08.2011
“Look like you give a damn. Re-civilise yourself. “
A new Nivea print ad has pinpointed the face of the “uncivilised”. It is not entirely unfamiliar from the one Vasco Da Gama and Bartholomew Diaz encountered upon their arrival on the Dark Continent. A permanent scowl engraved deeply on its brown skin. A mop of coarse, curly black hair. Beheaded, of course. Disembodied and about to flung off the top of a building, into unimaginable and irrelevant nothingness.
The angry black man has long been a hampering yoke on the redemptive, illuminating abilities of civilisation. Colonisation didn’t really cleanse them. The barbarism was intrinsic; and in the gaps left behind by the bible and the gun, Nivea has suggested that nonchalant natives baptise themselves in the healing cream contained in a blue tin. There is no mention of whether or not their products contain skin lightning ingredients, but it’s widely accepted that dark skin is an affront to the pure image of progress.
In the white version of the ad, the quintessential GQ man holds the hollowed out mask of his caveman-esque former self, whilst serenely looking out into a promising horizon. He however, has managed to escape being tagged as uncivilised. Beiersdorf, the German owners of Nivea, seem to feel he merely looks a little hellish, like he’s had bad day or a very late night.
Thanks to a massive social media backlash Nivea pulled the campaign at the end of last week and offered an unreserved apology on Facebook.
“Thank you for caring enough to give us your feedback about the recent ‘Re-civilized’ NIVEA FOR MEN ad. 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.”
But the ad, created by Draftfcb and first appearing on the pages of Esquire magazine, raises some serious questions about the proofreading process at one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies, especially considering how much an advertising campaign costs.
All the same, it’s fun to watch the offensive ad’s model B.J. Williams at first trying to defend the ad (and his paycheck) and then slowly going with the public outrage on his twitter feed.
And yet the backlash continues. There have already been several public calls for Rihanna to cancel her lucrative endorsement deal with the company. But that’s not going to happen. She’s making too much money to worry about a little bit of racism. Nivea are currently sponsoring her tour and licensing her song “California King Bed” for their latest TV spot. She’s also got a major section on the Nivea website and posed topless for the launch of the campaign. And unlike B.J. Williams, Rihanna gets paid enough to keep her opinions off the social networks.