NIVEA: Lacking Cross-Cultural Intelligence

Updated on November 17, 2017
ColleenDonald profile image

M.A. candidate with a specialty in cultural intelligence/integrated communication: Public relations, TV media, planning and research.

I recently conducted a case study for The 2018 Author Page Case Study Competition. Here are my findings:

NIVEA, a global body and skin care brand owned by the German company Beiersdorf, received negative press and commentary from online users in regards to its 2017 “White is Purity” campaign: Invisible Black and White deodorant. The Facebook post read, “Keep it clean, keep bright. Don’t let anything ruin it. #Invisible” and was intended for its consumers in the Middle East.

The marketing strategy of the company was to promote white with purity and black with strength but it was not well communicated to its global audience. Twitter was the most impactful in public response and provided evidence that most people perceived the company and advertisement racist. Online users aligned NIVEA’s “White is Purity” slogan with negative historical events of the holocaust in Germany and the racism and mistreatment of people of color all over the world. NIVEA (and Beiersdorf) responded to the incident and public backlash by giving an apology and removing the ad

However, it was deemed insincere the eyes of the public and no additional actions were taken by the company to improve its public image. Strategies used by NIVEA in previous and recent campaigns have received similar responses: NIVEA's "Re-Civilize Yourself, Look Like You Give A Damn" 2011 men's campaign, and its 2017 "For Visibly Fairer Skin" billboard in Ghana, Africa. This case suggests that cultural intelligence and public opinion was not taken into account when the company created the Invisible Black and White deodorant advertisement.

This case addresses the need for diversity and cultural intelligence in global companies. More importantly, this case notes how important culture plays a role in public perception and how companies should be mindful of the messages it’s sending to its publics. Companies that are outsourcing its products to different audiences should address the best approach for its target publics with knowledge about its global audience and forethought about the type of messages it is projecting. A diverse audience should review the content and cultural implications should be considered before constructing a global campaign. According to situational crisis theory, the “White is Purity” campaign provides an instance of how important it is for a company to respond and act after a negative situation occurs. The tactic of using social media for the campaign showed that social media users have a fast response rate and can assist in damaging a company’s image if the campaign is not received well. Moreover, the purpose of this case was to reveal how the way a company responds to a crisis can have an impact on its image and its reputation.

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