The year 2011 is shaping up to be The Year That Madison Avenue Suckerpunched Black America. On the heels of an offensive Summer’s Eve campaign that featured a talking vagina using the colloquial vernacular of a stereotypical urban-based African American female, skin care company Nivea has added to the heat with an offensive campaign of its own. Featured in the September 2011 edition of Esquire magazine is the Nivea ad with an African American man preparing to long-toss a decapitated head with an Afro-style haircut. The facial image on the decapitated head is that of its traditionally coiffed thrower. The ad copy reads “Re-Civilize Yourself.” It appears that the underlying message is Afro-styled hair is uncivilized.
Social media usage spread the word about the ad in rapid time. Almost immediately Facebook users began posting photos of themselves with Afros with affirming statements that decried the ad as foul and racist. One posting read, “I wear my hair natural and I just graduated with my doctorate! So who needs to be re-civilized? Nivea no longer welcomed in my household.” Within a 24-hour period, Web searches for “Nivea recivilize yourself” surged 629 percent, according to The Lookout magazine.
Nivea issued an apology stating that it never intended to offend anyone. It further admitted that upon re-evaluation, the ad was offensive and inappropriate.
In July, Summer’s Eve released a trio of commercial that featured ethnic vaginas with stereotypical African American, Latino and white voices. The African American female genitalia conversed about the importance of being fresh when one “goes to the club.” Its white counterpart expressed a need for freshness before yoga class. During this year’s Super Bowl, Pepsi released a commercial featuring an angry African American woman who eventually, after other felonious acts, throws a soda can at her husband but hits a bystander the head.
Minorities have long been maligned in advertising. But, as corporate America embraces inclusion and diversity, it seems that Madison Avenue has mostly opted out. It is a looming issue that the National Action Network’s Madison Avenue Institute (MAI) has been addressing for several years. Led by Rev. Al Sharpton and media entrepreneur Munson Steed of Steed Media Group, MAI is working with firms to promote increased engagement and hiring of minorities in the ad industry. (Rollingout.com is owned by Steed Media Group.)
“It is unfortunate that offensive ad campaigns like the Nivea ad continue to be presented for public consumption. We often find that a firm will hire a multicultural media specialist or firm to vet the product, but will totally disregard the assessment that some aspect of the marketing campaign is offensive — whether it be print, radio or TV. The bottleneck is in the disconnect. Many of the big ad agencies won’t hire people of color and won’t listen to the diverse specialists they bring in,” Steed stated upon review of the Nivea ad.
“The proper filters don’t exist to create advertising that has the right balance of insight and information to credibly speak to the growing percentage of the population that is ethnic,” said Larry Woodard a director on the Advertising Week board and contributor to the New York Daily News. “That’s why you see so many black, Hispanic and Asian stereotypes in ads.