Lots of people sure think it is, and it may be, but it appears everyone missed the true focus of the ad.
The ad shows a clean cut black man throwing an afro black head– we can assume it is his own head. And people seem to have jumped on that as a racist message, e.g. rejecting the natural hair of a black man.
But black men, according to Nivea’s brand messaging, are inherently uncivilized and can only become civilized if they forsake what comes out of their hair follicles naturally.
Wrong, it doesn’t say that at all.
The ad doesn’t say “Civilize Yourself”, it says “Re-Civilize Yourself” and in case the emphasis was lost on anyone the ad even italicizes the “Re-Civilize.” This means that the black man in question wasn’t inherently uncivilized, he was civilized already– the danger lies in regressing.
What no one thought worth mentioning is that the ad appeared in Esquire: average age 45. The byline of Esquire Magazine should be: “How To Avoid Growing Old, Because It Blows.” Every cover girl will be slutty (including Tina Fey, if such a thing is possible) and every guy will be in a jacket.
No teens here, these are Gen Xers in a last ditch attempt to appear culturally relevant. Maybe brown shoes (paired with a brown belt, of course) would help.
Also important, since we are talking about a black man rejecting afro heads, is the simple fact that every cover of Esquire since 2005 has been of a white person except Obama (twice; one was a the Hope poster) and Denzel (who appeared in a shot with 3 white people.) This is a magazine for white people, not black people, and white people who want to be classy, strong, and masculine. I grant you that this will fail, but it is what they want nonetheless. The only black people who get to appear on/in Esquire appeal to whites, i.e. they are classy, strong, and masculine. That’s what whites want.
Whether or not afros are natural is as immaterial as whether black women should straighten their hair or not, i.e. it isn’t the point of the ad. Ads don’t sell products only, they sell aspirational images, and this ad isn’t selling a product by Nivea, it is selling the black guy. The ad is for white people, and they can’t relate to the afro but they can relate to/wish for the masculinity of the black man throwing the head. That guy is an aspirational image for them. That guy is who they’d like to emulate, and that’s why he’s in there.