Nivea pulls ‘white is purity’ advert after online uproar

The advert was posted on the brand’s Facebook page for two days

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The Independent Online

The skin care brand Nivea set off a controversy this week with an ad featuring the phrase “White is purity,” again finding itself accused of racial insensitivity over a campaign that seemed to be embraced by white supremacists.

The latest ad, which showed a woman with dark hair cascading down her back and wearing white in a brightly lit room, promoted its Invisible For Black & White deodorant. Beiersdorf, the German company that owns Nivea and other brands like La Prairie, has since deleted the ad, which appeared with “Keep it clean, keep bright. Don’t let anything ruin it, #Invisible,” as part of its post.

“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offence to this specific post,” the company said in a statement. “Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of Nivea.”

Nivea’s decision to remove the ad on Tuesday, which was posted on its Facebook page for two days, and stop the entire campaign is another sign of how sensitive companies have become to negative reactions on social media.

At a time when online conversations can snowball, companies have learned to respond quickly to opinions on social media. This has created an environment where Google has had to train its ad placement computers to be aware of offensive content because brands are wanting more distance between their marketing material and derogatory messaging or terrorist propaganda.

The advertisement, which was on Nivea’s Middle East Facebook page, was being discussed on 4Chan with racist comments on Monday. The ad was posted on Twitter next to a picture of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon tied to anti-Semitism and racism that has become a mascot for the alt-right. The user wrote that “Nivea has chosen our side.”

One Facebook user paired the ad with a screenshot from a 2011 Nivea campaign, featuring a well-dressed black male clutching the Afro of a mannequin’s head. The tagline, “Re-civilize yourself.” Nivea apologised for the campaign, calling it “inappropriate and offensive”.

Even after Nivea apologised Tuesday, consumers were dissatisfied. “It’s cool for the ‘Middle East’ Facebook page? Really? As if colourism isn’t a problem in those cultures?” Laila Parmoon posted on Facebook, where she identified herself as Iranian.

A Beiersdorf representative said the ad was part of a broader campaign for the deodorant in the Middle East that linked the colour black with strength and white with purity. “We never intended to hurt anybody or to raise any wrong interpretation,” the representative said.

Nivea is among several brands in recent years that have faced fierce criticism online for insensitive marketing or products. Urban Outfitters stoked outrage with a T-shirt with a Star of David on the pocket and a Kent State sweatshirt with a pattern that seemed like blood stains and evoked memories of the National Guard’s opening fire on student protesters at the university in Ohio in 1970.

In 2014, after criticism online, Zara, a clothing retailer from Spain, stopped selling children’s shirts with stripes and a star that bore a striking resemblance to uniforms given at Nazi concentration camps. It also withdrew handbags featuring green swastikas.

Last year, a Chinese laundry detergent upset people with a campaign that showed an Asian woman shoving a detergent pod into the mouth of a black worker and pushing him into a washing machine. The man emerges as a pale Asian man.

And this week Pepsi was mocked on Twitter after an advertisement compared Kendall Jenner to a Black Lives Matter protester who became a national symbol after facing down police officers in riot gear.

Nivea did a review after the 2011 campaign to try to avoid similar missteps. It said in a statement that after this time, “Current development and approval processes will be immediately reviewed in order to avoid any kind of future misleading interpretations.”

© The New York Times

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