Racial Oversights in Retail: H&Ms Latest Marketing ‘Mistake’

Pepsi, Zara, Urban Outfitters and now H&M. What is it with these global corporations and their tone deaf marketing campaigns? We’ve seen ads depicting the end of racism, in one of the biggest retail screw ups in 2017. Leading to huge backlash worldwide for the company it seems these MNCs have still managed to ignore their mistakes.
The latest in this long line of embarrassing and problematic strategies is that of H&M. The use of a young black model in a sweater with the slogan ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ has gone viral resulting in criticism all over the internet. The racial undertones associated with the term monkey are prevalent today, and the use of this in H&Ms campaign is obtuse, insensitive and offensive. Those with their eyes and ears open will understand this. It was only a few years ago that a football player had a banana thrown at him mid game. Choosing to tackle this with indifference the then Barcelona player Dani Alves’ response to the targeted incident was spot on.
Coming back to the mistakes of H&M, Twitter blew up with mixed reactions, and there has been a huge variety in responses. The majority of those are rife with outrage, disappointment and a sad lack of surprise. Global artists The Weeknd and G Eazy have cut all ties with the company, outlining their embarrassment toward H&M whilst other celebrities have responded to the news by posting an edited version of the photo with the words ‘Coolest King in the World’ splayed across the models sweater.
The marketing move shows not only a lack of respect and sensitivity towards today’s issue, it also highlights a key cavity in the retailer’s boardrooms. Surely in an MNC of its size and calibre there must be some diversity within the higher ranks? Why, in such a large and global company was the connection not made? Because to do so you must be racist to even comprehend the association of a black person to a monkey? Incorrect; it is because those within those deciding seats at H&M are blinded by the privilege enjoyed through the lack of experience of such discrimination. Either that or there is a reluctance to voice concerns over mistakes such as this. Any comments depicting that the racism comes from those who primarily make the connection are simple-minded. Not only this, they show a huge lacking in racial consciousness and critical thinking.
The counterattack to the incident needs more direction than displayed thus far. Those who designed, pitched and approved the ill-thought-out concept won’t suffer from the destruction of stores. Thereby  the videos currently culminating on social media need to cease. Reports of these incidences will only trickle through to the top of the company with a minimal and indirect effect on those that are to blame. It’s been said that these demonstrations are over the top. This may be true, however the focal point to make is that they are misplaced and do little to combat the issue at hand. H&M need not only apologise and pull the item from its stores and website, the firm also needs to be open to regaining the trust of those it has now lost.
This should come as a sharp wake up call to H&M and other retailers, to become more racially and culturally aware, and maybe we’ll see less and less of this type of ‘oversight’ sooner than we think.




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