Clothing superstore H&M recently apologized after an advertisement for a monkey designed hoodie featured a black child as a model. The sweatshirt had the writing “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” on it and was largely targeting European markets.
The image of the online image quickly garnered attention for its unmistakable ignorance. Monkeys and primates have a long history of being used as derogatory and racist insults against black people. The fact that a large clothing brand somehow gave the green light for this image to be publicized and even created illustrates a lack of common sense and disconnect from culture, and many people were quick to point this out.
Artist and musician The Weeknd took to Twitter to announce that he will no longer be working with H&M after seeing the image, expressing his disgust with the company by stating he was, “[S]hocked and embarrassed by this photo.”
In response, H&M released an apology on Monday and announced that the sweater drowning in controversy will be discontinued and removed from stores, and the ad itself was removed from its online store. Of course, damage control has to be done quickly, so no surprise there.
However, H&M is now added to the growing list of brands and stores who simply have not figured out how to advertise their products in a manner that not racist or culturally insensitive. Last year, companies such as Nivea and Dove ignited a fury when their soap and skin care products promoted the idea of white superiority and “purity”, which also (unsurprisingly) is rooted in a history of product advertisement that deems white skin as clean and pure. There was also a metal bracelet sold at American Eagle that largely resembled slave shackles that went viral last year as well.
These constant “mistakes” and “blunders” in advertising is undoubtedly emphasizing the lack of representation in boards and publicity committees of major companies. Had there been one black person in the room when the decision to post an image that is so clearly racially tone-deaf, can it be believed that the image would have still been used? Advertisements such as H&M’s aren’t created on the spot and go through a relatively long process of approval and editing. And still, one person couldn’t identify this image as problematic? Not one?
It doesn’t matter that these companies weren’t intentionally trying to insult people (which they probably weren’t). There’s only so many apologies that the entire advertising sector can issue. Where is the education? How can you not learn from the mistakes of other companies? In an area of imaging such as advertising that is so heavily dependent on perception and impressions, these types of senseless and outright racist ads need to stop.
On a completely unrelated note, H&M reported its biggest quarterly loss of sales in a decade this past December. Here’s to one less store to shop at.
Picture Credit: H&M