“Nivea Invisible” – A Case Study

Back in 2011, Nivea released adverts under their “Look Like You Give A Damn” campaign to advertise their Nivea for Men products.  It appears to get men to buy their products by showing them that they can look more respectable, cooler, and just generally better.  They can look as though they care about their appearance.

Nivea's Look Like You Give A Damn advert

Source: Marketing Crisis Case Study: Nivea’s Racist Advertisement (https://contentequalsmoney.com/marketing-crisis-niveas/)

Few would argue that this is a bad thing.  Getting men to realise that taking care of their appearance is important is most definitely a good thing: You shouldn’t turn up to a business meeting looking like you’ve just come from a week-long “booze cruise” in Ibiza, you shouldn’t turn up to a first date looking like you’ve just had a 48-hour gaming marathon, you should look like you care, not just about how you look, but about yourself.  Take care of how you present yourself.  It’s important.

As part of this campaign, they released this advert.

Nivea's Re-civilize Yourself advert

Source: Nivea Pulls Racist “Re-Civilize Yourself” Ad After Sparking Outrage (http://www.businessinsider.com/nivea-racist-re-civilize-yourself-ad-2011-8?IR=T)

“Re-civilize yourself,” they said.  With a black guy.

Now, I get the message conveyed in this campaign: Leave your Neanderthal persona for the weekend, for the trips to Magalluf, for being with the “lads”.  That’s not what is considered “civilised” behaviour.  Throw that mask away and put on a new, fresh appearance and show that you mean business.

However, it has long been a message of the far-right and the white supremacists that black people are “uncivilised” and should conform to “white” behaviour, and this advert, to a few people, played into that stereotype.

Now, sure, you could say that they made an advert with a white guy doing the same thing:

But even that advert was more specific and played into that idea of “Sin City” – the uncivilised place of men in general – was not an excuse for not taking care of yourself.  Again, you should look like you care.  They didn’t ask white guys to “re-civilize yourself”.

Nivea pulled the advert and apologised.

Fast forward to 2017, and Nivea posted another campaign, as part of their ongoing campaign to promote deodorant that doesn’t leave white marks on black clothes.

Nivea's White Is Purity campaign

Source: Nivea perspires after ‘White is Purity’ ads embolden white supremacists (http://www.thedrum.com/news/2017/04/04/nivea-perspires-after-white-purity-ads-embolden-white-supremacists)

Seems like they haven’t learned their lesson.

“White Is Purity,” they say.  Another argument used by the far-right and white supremacists.

Now, again, I get this.  Knowing Nivea’s products as I do, based on past campaigns, the argument was that having marks and stains on clothes from your deodorant isn’t good.  Having sweat patches on clothes, having white marks on that black dress, that isn’t good.

If I can borrow from my comments about the “Nivea for Men” campaign, women should look like they take care of themselves.  That’s the argument.  That’s the campaign.  “Nivea products don’t leave residual marks on your clothes.”

They’ve done a campaign for this same product before:

And I think they did it pretty well.  The message was clear – “You won’t get stains or marks on your clothes with Nivea Invisible deodorant.”

Now, I’m not saying that Nivea did this whole “White Purity” intentionally.  I think they have just seriously failed with their marketing.  What they wanted to say was that their deodorant wouldn’t leave white marks or yellow stains. What they wanted to say was that this deodorant kept your clothes pure and fresh.

But what was very easy to see, in my opinion, was the racial undertones – “White is purity”.  The old Aryan battle cry of “pure White bloodlines.”

And again, Nivea pulled the advert and apologised.

Nivea has made campaigns about the freshness of their products and how they will protect your skin and your clothes before, and that’s great.  But neither of these campaigns hit that mark.  After apologising for the “Re-civilize yourself” campaign, you’d think that they’d be more careful.

Apparently not.

What bothers me about this campaign most, though, is not that this is not the first time that Nivea have done this.  It’s not that there are people trolling the adverts, nor that people are supporting the racial insinuation that this campaign has unintentionally created, nor the generic outrage that has come from this.

It’s this:

You’ll want to skip ahead to 5:44 for this bit.

Full disclaimer, I am a fan of Philip DeFranco.  I think he takes stories that can be polarised and gives them a more level viewpoint.  I am subscribed to his channel and continue to watch his videos.

His take on this one, though … no.  He very much took the “This is a deodorant advert, guys, come on” view and just dismissed the idea that it could be anything but.  I paraphrase, but what he has alluded to is that, basically, people will find a way to be offended by anything.  And whilst that is true, I think in this case the offence is legitimately placed.  I think that Nivea messed up and they were right to pull the advert. I think that Nivea made a mistake and should take ownership of it.  They have shown that they can market their products in a way that shows just what their product can do without using language talking about “white purity”.  They’ve done it.  They’ve done it as part of a past campaign for the very same product they are marketing now.

It’s possible to advertise a product to show that your clothes will not be tarnished by stains caused or enhanced by deodorants and it’s possible to do so without using the kind of language they used in this campaign.  They’ve done that.  Others have done that.  It’s not only possible, it’s easy.  Using things like “White Is Purity” as part of your message makes your actual message much harder to hear.

It pays to listen to your audience, it makes sense to understand what your audience wants.  It’s important to make sure your content reflects this and the marketing skill set we train to use works hard to make sure your message reaches the right people.  Nivea made a mistake, one that many companies make.  They are not alone in this, and it’s not something to be perpetually worried about.  In fact, we love to help businesses that aren’t sure about their marketing material or want to present their company in a better light.  If you want to let Cocode Designs look at your current material and review it, get in touch with us, or you can hire us to work on your newest project.  We’d love to talk to you.

Nathan is the Creative Director and Founder of Cocode Designs.  A web designer since 2007, Nathan has had an interest in all things technological for many years.  He has a breadth of experience working in the non-profit sector, as well as working with a few new startups in recent years.

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