Nikon South Africa releases tone-deaf, whitewashed influencer campaign

The company intended to show off its new mirrorless Z 50 camera. It showed off its lack of diversity and sensitivity instead.

NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Nikon South Africa is trying to build hype around the company's latest, DX-format, mirrorless camera, the Z 50, with a new influencer campaign. The video to unveil the campaign, however, has attracted opprobrium from social media. The reason for the rage? In a country where — as photographer Joshua Kissi points out — the majority of the country's population is Black, Nikon's included only one person of color, Austin Malema, in its selection of seven. For extra tone-deaf points, Malema doesn't even get a speaking part.

If anyone needs a lesson in how not to do representation or diversity in 2020 — you know, the year of Black Lives Matter protests and unprecedented calls for dismantling the mechanisms that entrench systemic racism — this is a perfect one.

Meet the candidates — Nikon's chosen seven "influencers" are almost exclusively white and Afrikaans. They include Kyle Goetsch, Pieter Buckle, Nicole Capper, Liezel Volschenk, Izelle Hoffman, Simoné Pretorius, and Austin Malema. To add insult to injury, two of them – Buckle and Pretorius — have barely over 3,000 combined followers on Instagram, making one wonder just how many sales of the Z 50 their "influence" is likely to lead to.

Some of the comments beneath the video — which has garnered almost 250,000 views on Twitter at the time of writing – include this astute observation from South African portrait photographer Victor Dlamini, who could easily have been included in the selection himself given his abilities and social media standing.

"So many of South Africa’s marketing departments have this unique ability to imagine a world in which only their white customers matter," Dlamini tweeted.

The Nikon Z 50, also used by people of color.Nikon

A week has passed — The video was posted to Nikon SA's Twitter account on July 24. Remarkably, the company has yet to issue a statement about it, or take the more common approach when companies make these sort of astounding screw-ups: delete the post and try to pretend it never happened.

We'd like to suggest that next time Nikon plans a campaign it includes a more demographically representative selection of photographers. As Nikon doesn't appear to know any other than Austin, we're happy to offer recommendations (and / or introductions).

Some of our picks off the top of our head would include the aforementioned Dlamini, and the likes of fine artists Zanele Muholi or Justice Mukheli, fashion photographer Trevor Stuurman, documentarian Lindeka Qampi, multidisciplinarian Noncedo Charmaine, commercial wunderkind Ofentse Mwase, food photographer Saaleha Bamjee, or Market Photo Workshop alumni, Sabelo Mlangeni, Musa Nxumalo, or Mack Magagane.

Well, you get the picture. Nikon, meanwhile, inexplicably still doesn't.

UPDATE: On August 4, Nikon South Africa tweeted the following statement:

We celebrate the power of creativity through imaging, embracing diverse ideas and differences among people and cultures. We recognize that our recent influencer program launched in South Africa fell short of portraying these values that we commit ourselves to embody and project as a brand. To ensure we are better reflecting the incredible range of talent in South Africa, we are re-strategizing our initiatives and will be updating the program to introduce additional creators. We are committed to promoting the power of photography and videography as a tool across all societies and communities.