H&M’s blatant racism merits more than just a limp apology

As its ad showing a black child wearing monkey jumper sparks a global backlash, Ali Bullock calls on H&M's PR team to ditch its token statements and find a more meaningful response to an outraged audience

For anyone who hasn’t seen the H&M advert currently blowing up on social media, you can check it out here and here.

Bullock: “Racism isn’t something that you pick out as part of your routine check of an advert.”

Sometimes I open my laptop and wonder if some brands realise that it is 2018 or if they are still living in the 1950s. H&M has come under fire this week for what can only be considered the most racist advert of the year. Lest we forget, we are only 10 days into January and we already have a potential winner for this category.

The statement in usual PR fashion reads that H&M is “deeply sorry” and that “routines have not been followed properly.” Suggesting that they don’t understand the harm, anger and sadness that they have created through this advert. Racism isn’t something that you pick out as part of your routine check of an advert – well not for any company I have worked for that is.

Simply put, their standard PR response isn’t enough. In fact, what brands – and PR agencies – need to wake up to is that the world has changed and so the response needs to as well.

The PR response for what is blatant racism deserves more than an some limp apology on Twitter. And that apology needs to be aimed at the people affected and the wider audience in a meaningful way. So, my advice if I was the head of H&M communications:

Apologise. No excuses. Just an apology (on social media of course) and do this as quickly as possible. Respond to as many people as possible. Listen to the feedback, take on board what people are telling you

  1. Send all your employees or at least the ones directly responsible for this travesty to some diversity training. Look internally into the organisation, is this a symptom of something bigger inside the company? Was it really a one off mistake?
  2. Never let this happen again

Racism isn’t a joke. It’s a fundamental issue and sadly all to real in today’s world. We don’t need more hate, racism or misguided commercial advertising like this. We have enough in our feeds to last us all for a long time.

Social media has meant that something intended for UK audiences (as is the case with this example) can now be beamed to millions across the world. And while that may be a good thing to raise awareness at times, the ultimate problem is that unless we as consumers ensure that the H&M brand takes more than a a short term hit by not spending money in their stores, this will be written off as just one of those examples of  “routines have not been followed properly.”

So consider this. Don’t go to H&M this week-end. Maybe put off buying this seasons must have item for one more week. What is the worst that could happen? it’s out of stock? For too many people, the racism we see in this advert will never go out of style, and that is something we should be ashamed of, H&M consumers or not.

Ali Bullock is the head of innovation and strategy at Hong Kong-based start-up HABBITZZ 


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