Following the controversial ad for which Swedish retailer H&M came under fire this week — featuring a black boy wearing a sweatshirt adorned with the slogan "Coolest monkey in the jungle" — it is clear that the advertising industry worldwide continues to be out of touch on issues of race.
One of the worst things the @MetroUK have ever produced - the H&M advert is racist, you can't tell me a room of planners, marketing team, designers & photographers are not aware of the racial connotations used🧐 pic.twitter.com/IODXSitbfT— Behlul (@behlul_official) January 10, 2018
Here are five adverts in which a brand shot itself in the foot regarding race:
1. Dove (2017)
The skincare brand came under fire in October 2017 for an advert that showed a black woman taking off her T-shirt to reveal lighter, "clearer" skin underneath — but ironically, as explained below, the hoax that had them taking the most flak missed the real reason the ad was dodgy.
First, they made the mistake of putting a composite ad together, using two models of colour and a white model in front of a billboard bearing huge, close-up "before" and "after" skin photos; one dry and cracked, the other lighter and smooth — and had the darkest-skinned model positioned under the "before" image, the white model under the "after", and the third woman "in-between".
That was bad enough, but they also made the mistake of doing several versions of the "top-remove" ad, using models of different races. The furore really kicked off on social media when some trouble-stirring soul spliced still photos from the start of a black model's ad with the end of a white model's, to make it look as if a single advert "turned a black model white", which wasn't actually what Dove had done.
That didn't stop the Twitter pile-on, of course. In the ensuing hullabaloo, the really problematic aspect of these ads got lost — in all versions, the "clearer" skin on each of the "after" pictures is a lighter shade than the model's original skin tone.
That looks awfully like nudging women of colour towards skin-lightening treatments, which is a lot more insidious than the supposed cause of the original outcry.
Missing the mark?!? Really @dove? So you're saying white is clean?!? Hmm 🤔 🔁 @theblkbox One of the many reasons why we NEED more black owned businesses! This is so disrespectful 😡 Swipe to read the fake apology from #Dove. TAG A BLACK OWNED BODY CARE LINE THAT PEOPLE CAN USE INSTEAD OF DOVE + CHECK OUT THE BRANDS LISTED IN OUR BUSINESS DIRECTORY ✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽 Link in bio! #TheBlkBox #DoveAd
2. Pepsi (2017)
Pepsi's ad disaster appropriated imagery from the #BlackLivesMatter protest. Almost everyone agreed that the idea of Kendall Jenner as a Pepsi-bearing messiah trivialised the widespread campaign against the killing of black people by U.S. police.
3. Nivea (2017)
Nivea was also accused of racism, when they flighted an ad showing a woman instantly turning lighter when applying the lotion — while claiming that it made her feel "younger".
This is not okay. #Nivea - Perpetuating the notion that fairer skin is more beautiful, more youthful is so damaging and plays into the racist narrative so prevalent in the beauty industry, that whiteness or light skin is the standard that we should all strive for. Advertisers have the power to change this narrative, but campaign after campaign we see it being used worldwide. Making money out of making people hate themselves is never acceptable. Whitening and lightening creams are not only physically damaging, but also ethically wrong. Empowerment is not too much to ask for. ALL black skin is beautiful, no exceptions, so celebrate us as we are instead of asking us to adhere to unattainable and racist ideals.
Nivea also came under fire for a campaign that had the slogan "White is purity", which it has to be said, takes multicultural tone-deafness to a whole new level.
4. Feed A Child (2014)
The aid organisation Feed a Child had an advert that showed a rich, white woman feeding a black child scraps under the table, as if he were a puppy. The tagline read: "The average domestic dog eats better than millions of children".
Although the intent of the charity's fund-raising drive — to guilt-trip wealthy suburbanites, many of whom may well spend more on their pets than they give to charity — was a noble one, the organisation quickly learnt that comparing black children to animals is just a no-no, period.
5. Popchips (2012)
Popchips drew fire in 2012 for an ad in which Ashton Kutcher played several characters — including a "Bollywood producer" named Raj, complete with brownface and an Indian accent.
They never learn, do they?