Yiiiiikes. Retailer H&M has apologized and taken down an online catalog image that appeared in the U.K. of a black child wearing a sweatshirt reading “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle.” Pretty much every rational reaction on this side of the ocean can be summed up by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) January 8, 2018
In a statement today, the brand said, “We sincerely apologize for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top. The image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States. We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.”
Despite the apology, the retail giant has apparently lost the support of Abel Tesfaye, aka Grammy award-winning artist The Weeknd, who worked with the brand on an 18-piece collection last year.
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) January 8, 2018
The image also drew the ire and attention of Questlove, who foresaw the corporate apology from a mile away.
I’m sure the apologies are a coming. And the ads will be pulled. I’m certain there will Be media fixers and whatnot and maybe a grand gesture like a donation to some charity (donations under these circumstances are the corporate version #SomeOfMyBestFriendsAre move if there ever was one) all this tells me about @HM is that the seats in the boardroom lack something…wanna take a guess?
The incident illustrates the now borderless world of branding–wherever you go, whatever you do, people from all over the world will see you. You can no longer do this print ad for Hong Kong, and a video for Houston, and not expect people in both cities will see it all. Call it cultural insensitivity, call it tone deaf marketing, whatever it is, it’s just plain dumb and bad for business. Which isn’t a good sign when your latest company results showed a 4% sales decline, and you’re talking about closing stores.
For a brand that’s paid so much money to collaborate with celebrities like The Weeknd, Kevin Hart, and Naomi Campbell in recent years, perhaps a significant investment in more POC behind the marketing scenes would be a good move right about now.