No doubt this will be a case study for design students in Semiotics 101, as what was clearly an innocently constructed image, carried some cultural baggage when given a headline. Ad freak reports on an ad by Nivea which shows an image of a clean-shaven, ‘preppy’ well-groomed black man carrying a head in his hand – the previous unshaven, afro-haired version of himself. The campaign message of “Look Like You Give A Damn” is drowned out by an unfortunate headline – “Re-Civilize Yourself.”
CNN reports that Nivea became a trending topic after blogger Septembre Anderson tweeted a pic of the ad and said,“adding Nivea to the list of companies that will not be getting my money.” The reaction on the web extended from accusations of racism, to accusations of insensitivity, to those who couldn’t see any problem.
The possible connotations of linking the ‘afro’ with being uncivilized were obviously missed by anyone working on the brief, and Good magazine reports that the headline wasn’t used in other iterations of the ad, though there is one ad where a white man holds a mask of a caveman with long hair and beard. This has lead to further microanalysis of the image by a hair expert who suggests that the ads are clearly referring to cavemen. Good magazine argues that if there was a wider visual context (the caveman) the audience for this particular ad would not have been aware of it.
There was a flurry of activity on Twitter, even calls for Rihanna to pull out of her spokeswoman contract. Nivea however pulled the ad and apologised saying no offence was intended, and indeed that goes without saying.
Photos have many meanings, in the layers of the image, in the context of the audience, and text adds another layer of significance. A photo is a powerful tool, and perhaps because photography is now such a part of everyday life we can underestimate its rich complexity. As the father of semiotics Roland Barthes once remarked in zen-like fashion, “a photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see.” When there is so much photography around us we need to pay even more attention.
What are your thoughts on the ad. Any other examples of an unfortunate conjunction of image and headline?
Thanks Ad Freak