Nivea For Men has been running a campaign aimed at getting men to step their grooming game up called “Look Like You Give A Damn.” As Madison Avenue is well aware, men are pigs, and if they are making an attempt to brainwash us into buying something we don’t want, they feel the need to come down to our caveman levels. If you believe the ad execs, men as a group generally don’t care about anything that doesn’t go “zoom”, have boobs, come fried on a stick or is played in a stadium. They don’t even think we want to bathe, just spray this on and peel the dirt off. So you have to imagine that the level of inexperience in targeting African-American men is exponentially inept.
The version of this campaign targeting African-Americans features the added tagline “re-civilize yourself” to the already condescending “look like you give a damn.” This wording is accompanied by an image of a well-groomed Black man holding what is supposed to be his own head with an Afro and a beard, his “un-civilized” self.
The imagery coupled with the words offends me on several levels. For one, the implication that wearing an afro or beard is uncivilized is terribly ignorant. Dr. Cornel West, who sports a very prominent Afro and beard, is one of America’s foremost thinkers. You can disagree with his personal politics all you want, but you can hardly call him uncivilized.
Secondly, being clean-shaven is not an option for all of us. Like many African-Americans, my skin keloids and close shaving of the face and head is not always a good idea. It can create in-grown hairs which result in bumps for the average person, but can be permanent for those of us that keloid. This is not to say we can’t be NEAT or well groomed, but that crew cut standard is not universal. Many Black people I know wear their hair long to prevent (or even cover) keloid scars.
Thirdly, one of the ads targeted at white men features a man with a low-cut beard. It’s edged up but not clean. Why was this not a viable option for ads targeting Black men?
I get that advertisers rely on extremes to make their point in the 30 seconds that they have our attention, but this attempt to reach Black men was just lazy. Below is how they targeted the “general population.” There is no “re-civilize yourself” tag for them. They just look smooth and ready for work or play.
Furthermore, the Black man in the ad looks like he is holding a lifeless, decapitated head. It’s a jarring, violent image that would seem more befitting in a Mortkal Kombat game. But maybe that’s exactly what they were trying to say. “Finish Him.” Conform or be killed. Isn’t that what “civilized” nations do?
Lastly, for the women who insist this isn’t racist (there are many of you out there saying that it isn’t) and are happy to have another ally in the crusade to get your men to be neater, consider this. If the ad were for a woman’s grooming product featuring a straight-haired black woman holding her severed, afro-sporting head, getting ready to hurl it down aisle sixteen at Target celebrating her new self, would you feel civilized?
Let me know on Twitter @JLBarrow
UPDATE: Nivea’s parent company, Beiersdorf USA, emailed us this statement to Adweek apologizing for the ad:
“We are deeply sorry for a recent ‘Re-civilized’ Nivea For Men ad. This ad was inappropriate and offensive. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values at Beiersdorf and we do not tolerate insensitivity. It was never our intention to offend anyone and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Beiersdorf, as a company, represents diversity, tolerance and equal opportunity. Direct and indirect discrimination must be ruled out in all decisions and in all areas of the company.”
Evidently, Questlove took exception to this ad as well:
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