Stop Being Racist: My Thoughts on Insensitive Advertising ft. Dove and H&M

Referring to a Black person as a monkey is racist, right? If you answered that question out loud or in your head you probably said “duh”. While the concept seems obvious enough for us to grasp, global retailer H&M didn’t get the memo. Apparently, their marketing team thought that the picture below was appropriate to market a hoodie to parents.

Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 6.07.27 PM

In the photo, a black child is wearing a hoodie that refers to the wearer (him) as a monkey. Pretty offensive if I do say so myself! Unfortunately, advertising in the past year wasn’t any better. Dove came under fire in the fall of 2017 for an ad that depicted a Black woman transforming into a white woman.

While Dove said that their intention was not to offend and be insensitive, they certainly missed the mark with consumers of color. Only time will tell how H&M responds to the brewing backlash. The real problem with these examples of poor advertising lies within the marketing and advertising teams themselves. Every year, marketing graduates are released into the real world without any real knowledge. These graduates can create a marketing plan, come up with a catchy phrase and pitch it to the execs, but what they lack is a genuine understanding of their target audience. That, my friends, is the recipe for a major marketing disaster.

Perhaps something that should be added to the marketing curriculum is a course that educates students about things that are culturally offensive to various groups in the country and abroad. If the professionals (and I do say that lightly) at H&M had conducted any amount of research, they would have learned that referring to a human of color as a monkey is highly offensive. Let’s do our goo-goos (Google) shall we?

When you Google if the term monkey is racist, over 1.15 million hits appear. With so many hits, as a marketing professional myself I would assume the topic is something widely talked about and perhaps debated. As a marketer assigned with the task of posting a Black child in the approved design, I would steer clear from using any association of the word with a child of color. In fact, maybe we should just trash the hoodie all together! That’s another battle for another department, though.

Needless to say (or maybe it is needed), researching your target audience is imperative to promoting your product in an effective way. The last thing a brand should do is omit that step. In the case of Dove, they’ve lost customers and had to deal with a ton of backlash on social media. The same will happen for H&M and any other brands that fail to make themselves aware of history. I can only imagine if things would have gone differently if more people of color had a hand in the decision-making process. That’s a topic for another post, though.

What I want to know is, how do you feel about the ad? Also, is there a diversity issue in the fields of marketing and advertising? Leave a comment below. I’d love to discuss your thoughts on this.

Published by Keiana Holleman

Proud HBCU alumna with a degree in communications seeking to change the world through writing, marketing, and social media!

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    1. I agree, Bill! The rate at which we are implementing solutions is frighteningly slow! More brands have to make diversity and inclusion a top priority, especially when their target audience is global.


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