Nivea For Men has apologized to people who were disturbed by a racially insensitive ad placed in a recent edition of Esquire magazine. The controversial ad has made its rounds across the Web since Wednesday and features several troubling images: a clean-shaven black man with close-cropped hair angrily throwing the severed head of a Afro-wearing, bearded black man. The text of the ad tells readers: “Re-civilize yourself” and has the caption “Look like you give a damn.”
When reached by Colorlines.com earlier this week, a spokesperson for the company said, “We always consider tone, message and sensitivity to all audiences in developing our creative campaigns. We apologize to anyone who may take offense to this specific advertisement.”
For many, the racial undertones were in fact hard to escape.
Over at GOOD, Nona Willis Aronowitz points out that this isn’t the first time Nivea’s ads have caught people’s attention for the wrong reasons. Britini Danielle writes at Cutch, “While I remember the old school Gillette ads that warned men that anything less than their products would be ‘uncivilized,” there’s something about this image that rubs me the wrong way.”
And she wasn’t the only one. On Thursday, “Nivea” was a trending topic on Twitter. People on the social network voiced their outrage with messages like, “Nivea claims that black people aren’t civilized,” and called the ad “unapologetically racist.”
Ad Age points out that Nivea ran an almost identical ad featuring a white man holding the head of another long-haired, bearded white man with the tag line, “Sin City isn’t an excuse to look like hell.”
On Thursday, as controversy over the ad swelled, the company posted an apology on its Facebook page:
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 out 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.
The same case could be made for Esquire, whose readership was made up of 35 percent of people who identified as African-American in 2007.
“The Look Like You Give A Damn campaign is a lifestyle positioning that speaks to our target consumers,” Nivea explained in a statement to Colorlines. “We developed taglines and images that were meant to humorously speak to all men and encourage this generation of men to actively engage in grooming.” It added that NIVEA for Men welcomes all individual styles, “regardless of ethnicity.”
*This post has been updated since publication.