Nivea’s ugly parting with FCB isn’t your ordinary agency breakup: It ends a relationship more than a century old, dating to when the agency went by the name Lord & Thomas. But it follows a rocky few years that have included three incidents where the brand was criticized for ads seen as racially insensitive.
Beyond the history, the account is no small loss for FCB. While Nivea only had $21.8 million in U.S. measured media spending last year, per Kantar, the brand, owned by Germany’s Beiersdorf, is much bigger outside the U.S., with $4.9 billion in global annual sales, according to estimates by Evercore. It represented 1 percent of agency revenue globally, according to an FCB internal memo.
The end of the relationship follows tensions dating to 2017, according to people familiar with the matter, the same year FCB and Beiersdorf reorganized agency and client teams globally. It comes just before the end of Pride Month, and in the wake of a client meeting in which, according to people familiar with the matter, a marketer rejected a photo of two men’s hands touching by saying “Nivea doesn’t do gay.”
FCB declined to comment.
In a statement, Beiersdorf said: “Nivea and FCB have had a long-standing partnership that goes back more than 100 years. However, in light of the profound transformation of our industry and the advertising landscape, a decision was made at the start of the year to review Nivea’s current agency model. As a result, Beiersdorf will initiate a pitch process for our biggest global brand. Following the launch of our new corporate strategy C.A.R.E.+, this is now the right time also for a new beginning in Nivea’s brand management and creative work.”
While Beirsdorf didn’t comment on the specific statement attributed to one of its marketers, the company said: “We are an international company with more than 20,000 employees with very different genders, ethnicities, orientations, backgrounds and personalities worldwide. Through our products, we touch millions of consumers around the globe every day. We know and cherish that individuality and diversity in all regards brings inspiration and creativity to our society and to us as a company. No form of discrimination, direct and indirect, is tolerated.”
C.A.R.E.+ is corporate investment program Beiersdorf announced in February that includes spending of more than $80 million annually in an effort to increase the organic sales growth of its consumer business to 4 to 6 percent and earnings before interest and taxes margin to 16 to 7 percent.
The breakup is hardly the first controversy Nivea and FCB have faced in recent years, amid three waves of backlash over ads critics saw as racially insensitive. It is unclear if FCB was behind the following ads.
First came a 2011 Nivea for Men ad showing a clean-cut black man carrying a decapitated, bearded head with an afro, presumably representing his former self prior to using Nivea products, and the tagline “Re-civilize yourself.” Amid an uproar, Nivea quickly pulled the ad and apologized on Facebook, saying: “Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company.”