Accidental racism in ads

Rosie Baker is Marketing Week’s specialist on sustainability and retail.

Nivea has created quite a furore with its latest ad for Nivea for Men in the US.

It has been accused of being racist and Nivea has issued a speedy apology and said it won’t run the ad again, ever, but I’m baffled that any brand could let this ad run in the first place.


I find it hard to believe that no one in Nivea’s advertising, brand or marketing teams or within the agency Draftfcb, which created the ad, raise their hand and say: “er, guys, is it just me or could this be seen as a little bit racist?”.

Obviously not.

It can take a certain type of person to see a certain type of message and I’m not suggesting that anyone at Nivea, its ad agency or any of the other bloggers writing about this are racist, but common sense says that an image of a black man waving a decapitated head stating “Re-Civilise yourself” is almost definitely going to ring some alarm bells.

It saddens me that instead of seeing a man in an ad for moisturiser, we still see a white man or a black man in an ad, and that shapes the perception of the message.

Nivea isn’t the only skincare brand to be accused of racism recently.

Dove ran a campaign earlier this summer for is Visible Care body wash that had a  “before” and “after” shot that some observers said implied whiter skin was an improvement on darker skin.


I think Dove was actually trying to be inclusive by choosing a black woman, a white woman and a Latino woman to feature in the campaign. What it overlooked was the implications of the overall ad.

I don’t believe for second that anyone actually thinks these are deliberately racist messages, but they are stupid and careless and shouldn’t have happened. Just because it’s unintentional doesn’t make it excusable.

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