Thursday, September 6, 2012

Too Sexy to Sell? Nivea Fires Rihanna, Raising Questions About Brand Identity and Cultural Values

The German cosmetics and skincare company Nivea is undergoing a PR makeover – and it does not include Rihanna. Stefan Heidenreich, the new CEO of parent company Beiersdorf, made clear this morning that the pop tart and Nivea are not a good match.  

In an interview with the German newspaper “Welt,” Heidenreich said, “I do not understand how to bring the core brand of Nivea in conjunction with Rihanna … Nivea is a company which stands for trust, family, and reliability.” Heidenreich said last year’s centennial ad campaign — which featured a half-body nude portrait of the “Good Girl Gone Bad” — was a “no-go.” In the photograph, Rihanna — her mercurial hair extensions dyed bright magenta — smiles and modestly covers her breasts.

The <A HREF="">nivea products for women</A>, a reprise of the age-old Venus Pudica (or “Modest Venus”) trope that dates back to ancient Greece, is the least of the skincare brand’s problems. If the past is any indication, Nivea can get itself into tons of trouble without RiRi’s help. Last year, the company was forced to eat serious foot for running a bizarre and flagrantly racist ad that featured a black man in preppy garb hurling the head of his former, afro-wearing self across an empty parking lot. As if the message wasn’t clear enough, the scene of lily-white self-transformation is presided over by the slogan, “Re- Civilize Yourself.”

In our polemicized, value-laden economy where chicken sandwiches are political weapons, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the pop star, who tweets expletives and posts raunchy photos under the handle “Bad Gal Riri,” might come under scrutiny for her self-broadcasted wild ways. Granted, singing from the rooftops about the joys of whips and chains and rolling a blunt on a bald guy’s head don’t exactly scream wholesome family fun. But Nivea’s dropping of Rihanna, viewed in the context of last year’s incendiary ad blunder, raises thorny questions about brand identity, cultural values, raciness, and race. What does it mean that the sexually and sartorially adventurous Rihanna doesn’t fit in with Nivea’s “re-civilizing” agenda? What role, if any, might Rihanna’s race and ethnicity play in her public image?

These are probably questions Nivea doesn’t want to answer. Back-peddling furiously, the brand’s communications vice-president Thomas Schönen released this statement: “Within the future brand positioning Nivea focuses more than ever on its core values. This leads to a change in advertising strategy as well as marketing campaigns. Beiersdorf and Nivea thank Rihanna for her work in relation to the 100th birthday anniversary campaign and feel respect and sympathy for her as a person and artist.” Rihanna, who — according to unsubstantiated estimates — may lose up to $25 million over the firing, took the setback in stride, tweeting a picture of Heidenreich with the words, “no caption necessary.” Guess you really can’t keep a bad girl down.

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