Culture Jam Assignment

Nivea, White is Purity ad.

Last year, around April, the skin-care brand Nivea released a controversial ad to promote their product “Black & White” deodorant. The advertisement intended to highlight the key marketing point of the deodorant, which was that it would protect both black and white clothes from perspirant stains. Although the target market of this product was for all populations, the ad was geographically aimed at their consumers from the Middle East through the firm’s Facebook page. The ad shows a dark-haired woman in a bright white robe sitting next to the deodorant and a phrase positioned near the product. The phrase that they decided on was “White is purity”. This shows Nivea’s unconcern and insensitivity to the racial implications of their ad, which is even worse when considering the fact that the ad was directed towards consumers in the Middle East. The advertisement undermines the racial tension felt by minorities by implicitly supporting white supremacist views. This passive encouragement primes unconscious racism because of its association of the concept “white” with “purity”, and could risk undercutting the concept that people of all colors should be considered equal (which is still just as bad even if it is unconsciously committed). This would be a huge problem since ads are part of media and mass exposure of media has a strong influence on the social norms of society. It could reinforce an insensitivity to racial concerns, passively connecting people’s association of “white” with superiority. From this, we can see that the ad highlights an overlooked aspect of communication where words can be implicitly interpreted in a way that can produce negative consequences. For this reason, I will change the phrase so that it includes the same message that they intended to convey using words that are free from racist associations.

(Word Count: 296)


For the culture jam, I modified the word “white and replaced it with the word “clean”. I did this to remove the focus of the ad from the color “white” and redirect the consumers’ attention toward the association of the word “purity” with the marketing point that the deodorant will prevent stains on both dark-colored and white-colored clothing. Other words that could associate with the idea of “stainless-ness” would suffice, or an image of clean clothing that’s either dark or light, so long as there are no ties or inferences towards a hierarchy of a specific race. This is to emphasize the ethical difference wording and associated imagery can make when considering the consequences of phrasing. By rethinking the advertisement with implicit associations in mind, the ad can avoid being unintentionally racist and still convey the message it intends to convey. This is not the first instance of racism in Nivea ads: the brand was also criticized in 2011 for an ad that showed an African-American man throwing the head of a mannequin that had an afro, coupled with the phrase “Re-Civilize Yourself”. This lack of consideration in advertising only hurts the support for ethnic diversity and should be regulated by advertising boards or councils to prevent mass adoption of implicit racist attitudes. It is clear that many clichés regarding ethnicity still persist, but the increase in backlash that companies receive after committing racism through their ads shows that there is awareness and encourages these firms to re-think their approach when creating ads.

(Word Count: 253)