Badvertising: Nivea Pulls Ad Suggesting Men ‘Re-Civilize’ Themselves

Nivea came under fire yesterday for an ad with a black man throwing out a head with longer afro hair and full beard. The image was part of a “Look Like You Give a Damn” campaign for Nivea for Men. The problem? The “re-civilize yourself” tagline struck many people as racist when positioned over a black model. A similar ad with a white model, who also holds a head with long hair and a full beard, reads “Sin City Isn’t an Excuse to Look Like Hell.”

Over at Good, Nona Willis Aronowitz writes “the message couldn’t be clearer: natural hair on a black man isn’t a style preference or a nod to afrocentrism—it’s straight-up uncivilized.”

Styleite’s Justin Fenner expands on much of what makes the ad uncomfortable:

“But black men, according to Nivea’s brand messaging, are inherently uncivilized and can only become civilized if they forsake what comes out of their hair follicles naturally. And that’s simply not true. Different hairstyles may communicate different things, but having a certain hairstyle (just like having a certain skin color) doesn’t encode certain behavior. And that’s probably the most offensive thing about this ad — it suggests that if you change how you look, you can also change who you are.”

Nivea responded fairly quickly by pulling the ad and issuing an apology via 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.” {Nivea USA}

Looking at both ads, we believe there’s certainly some cultural insensitivity: particularly in the US, there’s a history of black people being made to feel that non-straightened hair and certain hairstyles popular among black people – think cornrows, braids, dreadlocks – are uncivilized. Which is certainly not the case, but looking at both ads we also believe that there wasn’t a genuine intent to characterize the black model’s hair as worse than the white model’s.

In both ads the “before” head is ungroomed and the “after” is the guy throwing those habits away. The black model still has facial hair in his ad, though it’s trimmed, as is the hair on his head. A shaped, groomed afro and a neat beard would still get the point across that Nivea for Men products are suitable for grooming black hair, but the man is hardly bald or completely shaved.

“Look like you give a damn” is a clear enough tagline that there wasn’t a need for any comments on civilization in either case. Still, if the black model had received the tagline about looking like hell, there probably would have been just as much negative feedback, which signals to us a campaign that probably wasn’t trying to make a commentary on hair type and acceptable societal behavior, but one that needed more time on the drawing board in general.

Nivea's other "Look Like You Give a Damn" ad


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