H&M: Hidden Message or Horrible Marketing?

We are living in a time where political correctness does not exist. An entire race of people can be disrespected and no one bats an eye. This is an era where people’s true colors are showing; beginning with the leadership of our country, to the leadership of our states, the leadership of our favorite brands, and trickling all the way down to our communities, families, and friends.

H&M has recently received a lot of backlash over a campaign where an African American boy is wearing a sweatshirt that reads “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” and a Caucasian boy is wearing a sweatshirt that reads “Survival Expert”. See image below.

Retreived from Twitter.com

Retreived from Twitter.com

Now it does not take a rocket scientist to know that "monkey" has historically (and is still often used) as not only the name of a primate but also as a derogatory connotation towards African Americans. Granted, H&M is a Swedish company which could account for its ignorance of the impact that a campaign of this nature would have on the racial tension of our country. This leaves me to ask the question, is H&M an acronym for "hidden message" or "horrible marketing"?

Having studied and worked in the marketing and advertising field for collectively almost 10 years now, I know firsthand that there are often hidden messages in advertising that subconsciously compel consumers to retain information and make purchases. There is and historically has been an underlying notion of hate for people with darker skin tones and even within black communities, there is an underlying notion of self-hate. Could H&M have been using this campaign to subconsciously tap into those narratives to convince consumers to purchase? The company grabbed our attention with this campaign, apologized, and then followed up with a major sale, which led to people (including African Americans) to boldly defend a campaign, that if not labeled racism, at a bare minimum should have been considered as poor decision making.

Many have stated that "if the child's mother does not see an issue with the ad then why should anyone else?" That statement has lead me to consider the wide range of people who are often mistreated and misrepresented in their workplace, yet continue to bust their asses for a company that does not value them because bills must be paid and families must eat. Consumers drive the marketplace, so if consumers do not hold a company accountable for their marketing strategies, then companies are free to create as many controversial ads as they choose. Also, note, there is no such thing as being overly sensitive towards topics such as these, because when you give an inch, it will stretch into a mile.

From a marketing standpoint, there are a few key points to learn from this:

1. Research your marketplace. You need to learn everything there is to know about the market(s) your business is operating in.
2. Include diverse viewpoints. The world is becoming a large melting pot of different cultures. Typically, we are biased to our own because that is the realm we operate in, a company that is inclusive of differing viewpoints will help it to connect beyond that of a singular person in charge.
3. Enlist a process/chain of command to target campaigns that may be too far out of bounds. 

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