Sometimes advertising campaigns really blow it, and you have to wonder how they ever got approved. I mean, we all remember the controversial Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, which tried to appropriate images of the Black Lives Matter protests to hock soda. And just a few months ago, Dove cosmetics sparked consumer outrage, when they produced an ad that showed a black woman take off her top and turn into a white woman. I mean, what was that all about? What message were they trying to send? Are ad-blockers and cord-cutters finally making marketers lose their minds?
Those Pepsi and Dove ads were so terrible I quit drinking soda and using soap forever. However, I don’t think those campaigns were produced with malicious intent. I mean, companies want to appeal to everyone, not offend everyone. I think some stupid decisions were made and the ads weren’t ran by enough people for feedback (or, like, any people of color). One dumb, cringeworthy mistake can lead to massive outrage on social media. And today no company knows that better than H&M.
The retailer came under fire for posting a product photo of a black boy wearing a hoodie with the words “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle.” (Yikes.) As you can imagine, this image sparked a huge backlash, with many consumers swearing they would stop shopping at H&M (at least, until they see how expensive clothes are at Nordstrom and Macy’s). The brand quickly removed the product from its website and apologized, issuing the following statement:
“We understand that many people are upset about the image. We, who work at H&M, can only agree. We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print. Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering globally. It is obvious that our routines have not been followed properly. This is without any doubt. We will thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.”
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) 8 January 2018
It’s great that H&M apologized for the racially insensitive photo. However, the incident has already cost them a valuable endorsement from a celebrity, and not just any celebrity – a “mothaf—in’ starboy.” Pop singer The Weeknd partnered with the Swedish-based retailer in February 2017, starring in campaign videos and even collaborating on a themed menswear collection. However, now the Canadian hip hop artist has decided to cut all ties with the brand, tweeting: “Woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. I’m deeply offended and will not be working with H&M anymore.”
When asked for comment, retail strategist Wendy Liebmann said, “Sometimes this happens — a global company is not sensitive to another culture [or] another political commentary.” Well, hopefully companies try harder in the future to be more culturally sensitive. For example, White Castle Burger? Don’t ever change your slogan to “White’s the best!” or “White’s number one!” It will not go over well. Trust me.