Nivea has pulled a deodorant ad that declared "White Is Purity" after people called the slogan racist and after some hijacked the ad's online campaign with comments about white supremacy.
The ad, which appeared in a Facebook post last week, originally targeted the German skin care company's followers in the Middle East. It was intended to promote Nivea's "Invisible for Black and White" deodorant and depicted the back of a woman's head with long, wavy, dark hair that tumbled over an all-white outfit.
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 people 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 posted 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 — citing 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 wrote, 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 removed Monday only after the news outlet inquired about it.
Representatives for Nivea's parent company, Beiersdorf Global, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Tuesday. However, the company did spend time replying to people on Twitter who were outraged by the ad.
In a statement to BBC News, the company apologized for the post and said it had been removed after "concerns risen about ethnic discrimination."
"We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific post," the statement read. "After realizing that the post is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of NIVEA: The brand represents diversity, tolerance, and equal opportunity. We value difference. Direct or indirect discrimination must be ruled out in all decisions by, and in all areas of our activities."
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 cleanshaven 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."