It seems the marketing strategy for the beauty industry this fourth quarter is “white wash” and be as divisive as possible to your target market. Or is it a deliberate marketing ploy in line with the statement: there is no such thing as bad publicity? Barely a week after the Dove controversy, enter Nivea and their skin lightening TVC and billboard advertisement showing Miss Nigeria Omowunmi Akinnifesi’s skin getting lighter as she applies the product.

“I need a product that I can really trust to restore my skin’s natural fairness,” says Akinnifesi in Nivea’s African advertisement, which is being broadcast in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal. The TV spot is promoting the beauty brand’s “Natural Fairness” moisturizer, and promises the product will “visibly lighten” your skin.

The subject of skin bleaching on the continent has layers specifically linked to marketing strategies that promote the “white is right” agenda. The surprise however is that brands that were previously more inclusive and celebrated ethnic diversity are now cynically tapping into the same insecurity that boosts skin-bleaching sales in emerging markets.

The public took to social media to express outrage at the assumption that they would want ‘fairer’ skin and demanded the billboards be removed using the #PULLITDOWNNOW.

Forced into action Beiersdorf spokeswoman told Quartz, emphasizing on the company’s commitment to diversity said, “We recognize the concerns raised by some consumers regarding a Nivea product communication in Ghana and take them very seriously,” she added “Our intention is never to offend our consumers.”

WATCH: Ghana to ban the import of skin bleaching creams


Nivea also issued a statement on Facebook on Oct. 18 saying the “campaign is in no way meant to demean or glorify any person’s needs or preferences in skin care.” The Natural Fairness line’s “natural ingredients and UV filters” were aimed at “reducing the sun-induced production of melanin,” they went on to say. While reminding consumers that their product ranges embrace diversity, the Facebook post showed no real acknowledgement of the racial insensitivity of the ad.

Adding to the voices speaking against the fallacy of the ad, Munroe Bergdorf a transgender model and activist fired from L’Oréal Paris’ campaign for saying “all white people” are racist criticized Nivea’s racist commercial on Instagram: “Perpetuating the notion that fairer skin is more beautiful, more youthful is so damaging and plays into the racist narrative so prevalent in the beauty industry, that whiteness or light skin is the standard that we should all strive for,” she said, reminding advertisers that they have the power to change this norm.

She continued, condemning whitening and lightening creams, saying they’re not only physically damaging, but also ethically wrong. “Empowerment is not too much to ask for. All black skin is beautiful, no exceptions, so celebrate us as we are instead of asking us to adhere to unattainable and racist ideals.”

Some have criticized the brand for not internalizing the issue as earlier this year, Nivea directed a deodorant ad to its Middle East customers with the tagline “White is purity.” The ad was pulled but that clearly has not stopped the brand from advertising the benefits of whiter skin and attempting to white wash coloured markets. In the Philippines, Nivea’s Extra Whitening Cell Repair & Protect Body Milk offers “fair skin” even after exposure to sunlight. There is also a range of other Nivea products in the Philippines promising to whiten skin.

Read: Who taught you to hate your [dark] skin?

Further proof of their slow learning curve or feigned ignorance is that the highly controversial “white is purity” campaign came shortly after Nivea and offensive advertisement in 2011, that saw a black man discarding an Afro, with the tagline “re-civilize yourself.”

Either beauty brands are purposefully ignoring the outcry against products that promote racism and self hate or the profits made from markets struggling with skin bleaching and the systematic degeneration of a race by colonialist rulers is too much to forego… Whichever it is people of colour refuse to be quiet any longer and they can expect continued backlash from reckless insensitive marketing campaigns.