Underneath the woman’s locks was the slogan in all caps: “WHITE IS PURITY.”
The caption on Nivea’s Facebook post read: “Keep it clean, keep bright. Don’t let anything ruin it, #Invisible.”
The post was quickly condemned by those who saw it as promoting racist rhetoric.
“What the HELL is this? White Purity?” one Twitter user said. “Shame, Shame, Shame on you. Fire your marketing person and anyone who approved this ad.”
Another Twitter user took images of racist comments that had been left on the Facebook post, some referencing the Holocaust.
“Wow @NiveaUSA. This is horrendous,” the person wrote. “Your comments are FULL of society’s refuse. This cleared your marketing department? #prnightmare”
Still others appeared to praise the ad — for the same reasons.
The Daily Mail captured an image of a post by a white supremacist group on Nivea’s Facebook page that read, “We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I’m glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity.”
“Nivea has chosen our side and the most liked comments are glorious,” another Twitter user said, with an image of the top comments on Nivea’s Facebook post.
One showed Pepe the Frog, a meme that in recent years was co-opted by white supremacists and has been declared a hate symbol.
Another showed a picture of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler edited to depict him with glowing orbs of light for eyes.
A handful of threads on the anonymous online forum 4chan praised the Nivea ad slogan’s apparent, if unintended, link to white supremacy and encouraged people to “LIKE ALL COMMENTS, BUY THEIR PRODUCTS.”
“Is Nivea, dare I say, /our guy/?” one 4chan user wondered, referring to supporters of white supremacist groups.
Nivea has since deleted the Facebook post, though images of the ad are still widely available online. Metro UK reported that the post remained publicly visible over the weekend and was only removed Monday after the news outlet inquired about it.
The company appeared to spend much of the day Tuesday individually replying to people on Twitter who were outraged by the ad.
In a statement to The Washington Post, a spokeswoman for Nivea’s parent company, Beiersdorf Global AG, apologized for the post.
“That image was inappropriate and not reflective of our values as a company. We deeply apologize for that and have removed the post,” the statement read. “Diversity and inclusivity are crucial values of NIVEA. We take pride in creating products that promote beauty in all forms. Discrimination of any kind is simply not acceptable to us as a company, as employees, or as individuals.”
An earlier “invisible” ad declaring that “Black Stays black. White Stays White.” was still on the Nivea Middle East Facebook page as of Wednesday morning.
This is not the first time Nivea has attracted controversy with its marketing campaigns.
In 2011, an ad for “Nivea for Men” products came under fire for depicting a clean-shaven black man holding a disembodied head with an Afro — presumably his former self — and getting ready to toss it away.
The slogan on that ad? “RE-CIVILIZE YOURSELF.”
Adweek noted there was a corresponding “Nivea for Men” ad that showed a white man holding his own disembodied head, but that one didn’t include the “re-civilize yourself” slogan. Outrage over the campaign forced Nivea to publicly apologize on its Facebook page.
“Thank you for caring enough to give us your feedback about the recent ‘Re-civilized’ NIVEA FOR MEN ad,” the company’s 2011 apology read. “This ad was inappropriate and offensive. It was never our intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company.”
Abby Ohlheiser contributed to this report.