Recently, high-street chain H&M released an ad featuring a black child wearing a hoodie that said ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’ as part of launching its latest range of children’s clothing.
The ad was criticised on social media and the retailer apologised and removed the photograph from its website whilst keeping two similar designs that are modelled by white children. One bears the words “Mangrove jungle” and “Official survival expert”; the other has outlines of various animals including giraffes and tigers.
A spokeswoman for the retailer said: “This image has now been removed from all H&M channels and we apologise to anyone this may have offended.”
The Swedish low-cost fashion brand announced on Facebook that the group's 'commitment to addressing diversity and inclusiveness is genuine' and that it had therefore chosen to 'appoint a global leader, in this area, to drive our work forward'.
Rappers The Weeknd and G-Eazy both cut ties with H&M and in South Africa, there were protests at some H&M stores. It was also revealed that the parents of the young boy at the centre of the controversy have had to move from their home in Sweden over fears for their safety - and the safety of their son.
This hasn’t been the first time that an ad has been perceived as offensive to its audience. We’ve taken a look at some other ads that have certainly not impressed their audience.
In November 2015, a Bloomingdale’s advert came under fire as it seemingly promoted festive date rape.
The popular American department store’s ad featured the tagline “Spike your best friend’s egg nog when they’re not looking” which was presumably meant to be a ‘fun’ ad for the holidays. But social media users voiced their opinions that they felt it encouraged date rape.
The ad, which appeared in the stores holiday catalogue, ended up being seen as creepy and offensive and led to an apology from Bloomingdale’s
A spokesperson said: “In reflection of recent feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalogue was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologises for this error in judgment.”
Bloomingdale’s also issued a public apology via its Twitter account. “We heard your feedback about our catalog copy, which was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologizes,” the department store tweeted.
Last Easter high-street supermarket chain The Co-op was accused of "outrageous sexism" with one of its adverts. The tagline which appeared in national newspapers said: "Be a good egg. Treat your daughter for doing the washing up."
This was to advertise Fairtrade eggs, and one of the Fairtrade principles is gender equality. The Co-op issued an apology and said that the advert was one of a number of adverts which ran over that weekend as part of its overall Good Egg campaign.
In response to the criticism, the wording in the advert was changed so that it does not reference washing dishes.
In 2017, Pepsi featured Kendall Jenner in an advert in the hope of depicting the brand as a cultural unifying force. The reality star and model left her photo shoot in the ad to join a heavily policed demonstration. She defuses the tension by walking to the police line and handing an officer a can of Pepsi, prompting cheers.
By handing the officer the drink, Kendall stops the protests, which has left a bad taste in audiences around the world, as it seemingly trivialised recent street protests in the US.
It was quickly pointed out by Twitter users that the ad appropriated imagery from social justice movements like Black Lives Matter, without outlining its own real-world issues to tackle, making the entire effort look cynical.
Pepsi mistook social justice movements, for opportunities to sell its drink and went on to apologise for the ad and said that it did not intend to make light of serious issues. The ad was withdrawn from YouTube within 24 hours
Pepsi said it was "trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding… Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologise."
“We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout."
It often seems to be a risky move when politics is used to sell a brand, with 58% of consumers surveyed for a study by 4A’s saying they disliked brands, who get political in their marketing.
In March 2017, a deodorant advert for German skincare brand Nivea was branded racist as it featured the tagline 'white is purity'. The advert for its invisible deodorant range was posted on the firm's Facebook page, geographically aimed at its followers in the Middle East.
Many social media users complained the post was racist and some linked it to the alt-right with many alt-right users sharing the post. The post was deleted by Nivea who accepted the post was "misleading" and apologised.
A spokesperson for Nivea's owners Beiersdorf said: "We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offence to this specific post. After realising that the post is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn.
"Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of Nivea: the brand represents diversity, tolerance, and equal opportunity.”
This isn’t the first time that Nivea has been accused of racism. In 2011, the brand released an ad that featured a black man removing his afro and beard accompanied by the caption “Look Like You Give a Damn ... Re-Civilize Yourself.” Nivea subsequently ended that campaign saying that it was never its “intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry.”
Nivea also said then that: “diversity and equal opportunity [are] crucial values of our company.”
It seems Nivea didn’t learn its lesson from 2011!
Similarly, skin care brand Dove also came under fire for racial connotations in an ad in 2017. The ad, which showed a black woman turning into a white woman after using Dove body lotion, was immediately criticised on social media.
The full advert showed a white woman taking off her top, where she changed into a Nigerian woman, however, people pointed out that numerous racist adverts in the past have sold soap by saying it can turn black skin white, and that Dove should have realised people would call it out. Within days, the hashtag #BoycottDove was spreading on Twitter.
Dove said in a statement that: “The short video was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong.”
Lola Ogunyemi, the Nigerian woman in the ad, shared her opinion in The Guardian. Lola said: “Having the opportunity to represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued.”
But she woke up to the criticism the ad received. Lola says she can see how the snapshots that circulated the web have been misinterpreted, considering that Dove has faced a backlash in the past for the exact same issue. She believes there is a lack of trust here, and feels the public was justified in their initial outrage.
She said that she can also see that a lot has been left out. The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion. Lola says her experience with Dove was a positive one.
It’s vital to think about the message behind your ad, and the possible connotations it could have around the world. Bad press can halt sales and damage a brands reputation and should be avoided where possible.