H&M’s recent ad campaign proves companies haven't learned their lesson about racist products
In early January, H&M came under fire for an ad campaign that many people considered racist. The ad featured a young black boy wearing a hoodie that read: “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” What’s more, this ad was juxtaposed with another image that featured a white boy in a “Survival Expert” hoodie. Many people took to social media to voice their disbelief that such offensive racism still exists in 2018. Even major stars like The Weeknd and G-Easy, both of whom had business relationships with H&M, condemned the hoodie and consequently cut ties with the company.
H&M has since issued a public apology on its website, stating that they are “deeply sorry that the picture was taken,” and that they “also regret the actual print.” They not only took the image down from the company’s channels, but also removed the garment from their product offering globally and hired a diversity coordinator.
But not everyone was offended. In fact, the parents of the child pictured in the advertisements stated that they didn’t believe the ad campaign was racist. “I wouldn’t see such a connection to anything other than my son modeling a shirt,” said his mother, Terry Mango, speaking about the racial connotations of the advertisement. Mango went on to say that she doesn’t feel the controversy is an overreaction, however, and supported people speaking out about racism — though she doesn’t necessarily share the same opinion in this instance. “Everybody should act differently based on their opinions of what racism is,” she said. “I know what racism is — I’ve had racist remarks directed to me. I’ve been called ‘monkey’ on a cruise ship and my reaction is the same as the world is reacting right now.”
This hoodie isn’t the first racially insensitive advertisement that H&M has produced. In November 2015, H&M South Africa came under fire for featuring hardly any black models in its advertising campaigns. H&M South Africa responded to that criticism by stating that “H&M’s marketing has a major impact and it is essential for us to convey a positive image. We want our marketing to show our fashion in an inspiring way, to convey a positive feeling.” Many interpreted this comment to mean that the company believed white models somehow conveyed a more “positive image” than models of color, which, of course, only added fuel to the fire. H&M responded again, tweeting that “we have worked with many models from various ethnic backgrounds in our campaigns.”
This incident is hardly the first example of a company marketing racist products, either. In April, the skin care brand Nivea removed an ad that was accused of racial insensitivity. That same week, Pepsi apologized for a television commercial featuring Kendall Jenner which was criticized for borrowing imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement, and in doing so trivializing the protest movement and the killings of black people by the police, according to many in the movement.
H&M’s recent racist campaign proves the company has not learned its lesson. That any company in this day and age could reasonably produce such an ad further proves that our society still doesn’t take offensive images like this seriously. So it seems consumers have two choices: We can either sit idly by and let these incidents continue or we can make our voices heard to ensure that equality and inclusion are the hallmark of our society’s values.
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