H&M's 'coolest monkey in the jungle' Is it cool?
I heard this morning on LBC about H&M's latest apology, about a young black child modelling a hoodie with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle” appearing on their website. Over a thousand tweets have slammed the brand for being insensitive and careless about the advert. Asking it to be taken down immediately. Thankfully the image of the boy has been removed. But sadly, it's tarnished reputation still circulates the internet.
You guessed it. The term 'Monkey' is a racist derogatory term against black people. I agree it should never have been used in this way. As much as an Australian TV advert last year featuring the god Ganesha enjoying lamb. Being Hindu and non-vegetarian myself, I can see how this would have offended the Hindu
community. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcyffOn0bu8. If you look closely towards the end (2:04). Ganesh doesn't hold a glass of wine up. Instead, he has water. Ironic.
But back to H&M. As I listened on to LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, saying it was an oversight of a junior Art Director. My first reaction was, no, not really, this is shifting blame. The responsibility lies with both the creative agency and the client. What was H&M thinking when they signed off this advert? Nothing probably. And did no one in the creative agency question it? I've worked on many diversity campaigns in the past, I certainly would not have let this pass my watch. We had a diversity expert Gamiel Yafai, working at the agency whom we used run our ideas past before sign off. Larger brands should invest in such an expert. Otherwise, a better solution to avoid embarrassment would have been to swap with the child wearing the Mangrove Jungle Survival Expert hoodie on the right. Everyone would have been happier. And H&M would have sold tons of the hoodies.
I understand that brands are trying to embrace diversity into their advertising. And in the past H&M the 3rd largest retailer in the world, have been great at challenging topics like recycling clothing and showing diversity. Which they have won hearts and mind for. I'll give them that much credit.
Also worth watching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDV_CaHWexY
Pushing for diversity is a popular trend and it is widely being accepted. But when a popular brand like H&M takes a wrong turn and upsets thousands of loyal customers by ignoring what millions of black people may think, H&M really needs to take stock of what the brand is standing for. I would say, diversity doesn't always mean it is about treating people the same. It should also mean empowering and embracing people by respecting their differences, in terms of age, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education and origin. As a society, we still have a long way to go with understanding people from diverse backgrounds. In terms of what words and customs are acceptable to show in advertising. A word like 'Monkey' with a young black model should have been avoided at all costs and it's not cool. H&M will have to win back the hearts of many who have been outraged by their recent blunder.
I have been working in advertising for over 20 years and worked on many diversity campaigns. Experience has taught me to do the research, test it, weigh up the pros and cons. Then put an advert out into the public domain no matter how big the project. It really doesn't take that much time to do the due diligence. After all, as a creative you can save a brand's reputation.
Preeti Nayee is a Brand and Communications designer and owner of Somethingpreeti Creative. If your creative ideas do not reflect your brand in the way that it should, she will help you create ideas that will think a little harder about your brand's ethical standards, diversity and target audience.