It hasn’t even been two weeks but here we go. Yet another racially insensitive image from a well known brand has caused an uproar. Last year it was ads from Nivea, Pepsi, and Dove. This year we have H&M starting the inevitable list. However, this time it’s not even an ad that’s the problem. It’s a product featured of a young black boy. For those unaware, a Twitter user spotted an image of a black child sporting a hoodie that reads “coolest monkey in the jungle” on the H&M UK site.
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) January 8, 2018
Absolutely jaw dropping. Not only are people on social media tearing H&M apart, but the brand is also losing celebrity collaborators in the process. The Weeknd, who debuted a collaboration with H&M last year has announced that he’ll no longer be working with them in the future. Who’s next? Moments like these certainly put pressure on celebrities that are affiliated with the brand. Do you stay silent and let it boil over, or do you take a stand and cut ties? For example, would you look at Kevin Hart differently if he chose to not do anything in the midst of all of this? For context, Kevin and David Beckham collaborated with H&M for their fall collection.
I’ve tried my best every time something like this happens to think of how it happened in the first place. With a company as big as H&M, a product shot doesn’t just simply make its way to the website. There are processed (or at least should be). Rounds of approvals along the way in which at least one person should have questioned this image. Producer and The Roots member, QuestLove took to Instagram to say the following “all this tells me about @HM is that the seats in the boardroom lack something…wanna take a guess?”. The answer is people of colour. Although we’re starting to see more diverse groups in the advertising and marketing industry, it takes these people being decision makers to stop an image like this one from going out to the masses.
Everyone’s upset, so what happens next?
- H&M has issued an official written apology, however, according to the public comments people are not buying it.
- If consumers don’t forget about this in two days, we’ll actually see more celebrities drop out of their H&M partnerships and legitimate boycotts.
- On the flip side, we might even see less diversity used amongst brands. If you’re scratching your head at this point, hear me out. We’ve seen the effect these situations have on a brand. Being called racist from your consumers doesn’t help you in any way. Is it so crazy to imagine that in making an effort to not offend certain races, brands will simply minimize the use of those races in their ads? I mean, even more-so than they already do of course.
Is H&M racist?
Racist? No. Culturally ignorant and insensitive? Absolutely. To put it simply, they messed up in a major way. During a time where racial sensitivity is high, brands need to take the extra step to ensure they aren’t offending a whole group of people. Common sense, am I right? At the end of the day you have to ask, “how many people did this have to pass through?”. “Did the boy’s parents approve the final image?” “How’s H&M going to repair the damages?”. I don’t have the answer to these questions, but it’s important that they’re asked.
Dakarai is an ambitious professional with a passion for advertising and marketing, and is currently employed in account services for an ad agency in Toronto. When he’s not at the office, he’s most likely trying out a new restaurant, browsing AdWeek, or binge watching something on Netflix. Dakarai, but you can call him Dak. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and connect with him on LinkedIn.