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On heels of SC Johnson loss, layoffs, another strikeout for Draftfcb

If an agency ever wore bad luck like a backpack, surely it’s Draftfcb. What else can go wrong for this agency? As reported earlier this week by our Juan Martinez, the Interpublic Group shop is being forced to gut its US workforce by about 10% and its global headcount by 3% following the bruising loss of its second-largest account, SC Johnson, to BBDO and Ogilvy & Mather. And now, the agency finds itself the subject of still more bad press — and what’s worse, charges that an ad for client Nivea is racist, or at the least culturally insensitive.

As reported on the website of Good magazine, a Nivea for Men ad pictures an impeccably groomed black man set to hurl the head of his former, less-coiffed self — replete with unkempt afro — and the tagline “Re-civilize yourself.” Snarkophiles, naturally, had a field day. Commented Good: “Nivea must have a serious lack of diversity on their marketing team, because there is no other explanation for why an ad like this got approved.” Quipped the blog Adfreak: “Oh, those uncivilized black people — when will they get with the program? Perhaps they should try Nivea’s grooming products!” Ouch.

Nivea parent Beiersdorf selected Draftfcb as its lead global creative agency just last November. One has to wonder whether this embarrassing incident will have the global CPG marketer striking the agency from its Christmas card list? At the least, it makes for yet another black eye for the already pummeled Draftfcb.

Draftfcb referred queries to the client. Nivea posted the following on its Facebook wall: “Thank you for caring enough to give us your feedback about the recent ‘Re-civilized’ Nivea for Men ad. 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.”

Consumer reaction to the ad was mixed. One person commented on Nivea’s wall post: “Proud natural-haired black woman here … Thanks for the apology, horrible oversight.” Wrote another: “Dumb ad, they apologized, will live on in the hall of shame on the Internet, let’s move on people!”

It’s not as if Draftfcb and Nivea are the first agency and client to green-light a dunderheaded creative idea. (Whenever something like this happens, we always have to ask: how does something so stupid make it through the layers and layers of people on the agency and client sides without one of the adults in the room putting the kibosh on it?)

The thing is, Draftfcb should know better. The agency demonstrated its proud commitment to diversity this past February when, in response to a wave of gay bullying incidents and suicides and the consequent “It Gets Better” campaign, it produced a slick, six-minute video featuring employees at all levels of the company sharing their own stories about surviving bullying. (The vid got over 16,000 views on YouTube.) Everyone is entitled to, even expected to make mistakes, of course. Unfortunately for Draftfcb, it seems to be becoming a habit.

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