First, let me say I started writing this article after the Dove ad scandal. (Can you call it a scandal?) It's important that I highlight that because I'm only publishing it now after the H&M scandal. I waited because I knew there would be another time that this article would be relevant.
Why? Because of Dove, Pepsi, Nivea. Ugh…the list could continue. H&M is just the new verse in the same song. And I gotta say: I'm not mad about it. I'm kind of "eh" about it. And that's simply because now I'm expecting it.
If we're being honest, these are not the first advertisements that have disregarded, disrespected, undermined, or failed to consider people of color. Ads are significantly more inclusive than they were even a decade ago. So why is this a big deal?
I hear so many responses to the calls for boycotts. "People are never satisfied. The companies push for diversity, make political statements, embrace inclusivity, or encourage body positivity; and, it's still wrong." Or "The problem is that we're too politically correct. We care too much about how other people feel and what other people think."
And you know what? Yes to all of that. The reality is there will never be a time where everyone is happy. It's likely that someone will be offended. So often, we are so concerned with stepping in it that we neglect to step at all. But you gotta ask: If we're always stepping on someone's toes and generally the someone is underrepresented, disenfranchised, and/or disrespected in the mediums in question, can we really claim to care too much? Or is this a case of chronic not caring for so many decades that our caring keeps "missing the mark"?
I had many friends who were up in arms about H&M's recent ad with the brown boy sporting a sweatshirt with the words "coolest monkey in the jungle." The picture of his white counterpart with a sweatshirt saying, "survival expert" was posted next to it and floated around my timeline with loads of critique.
On the flip side, I had friends that were so over seeing the ads and thought that people were too up in arms. We, the often misrepresented, definitely don't agree. There is no hive mind when it comes to discrimination and how and when to fight it. There is no general agreed upon consensus on who is mainly to be held accountable.
I wonder, is it the responsibility of corporations to consider these things? Obviously, from a capital standpoint, it's smart to consider your audience. But what social responsibility should they have? I haven't spent much time determining what I think are the answers to those questions. And maybe I should.
But what I will say is what bothers me most is the apology. I'm so disillusioned sometimes that I don't even want any more apologies. And it all comes down to the fact that I know what they're going to say. You can almost copy/paste the words.
"We're sorry." "Diversity." "Inclusion." "Missed the mark." "Mistake." "Not reflective." "Sincerely apologize."
It's so much like a broken record that I'm starting to question if it really is a mistake. Not to be too conspiracy theorist here, but I'm starting to feel like most companies are uncaring about the images they put out until they're called on it.
Yes, it could be an innocent oversight. But if you truly are considering and acknowledging your potential clients, you're considering the issues they face. You're in tune with social and political needs in addition to their commercial needs. There is no ad company that sells to an audience without research.
The first time you apologize, fine. Do better. But the second, third, fourth? Keep the apology. At this point, you're just kicking the ant pile and claiming you didn't know it was there.
And let's be honest, with pictures of Former President and First Lady Obama depicted as monkeys with insulting captions (let alone all the historical propaganda referring to black people as monkeys), I'm calling BS that you didn't know any reference of the same was offensive, H&M. And Nivea, with white supremacists constantly yelling about maintaining the pure race, I'm side-eyeing your "White is purity" ad. And Pepsi, after that much publicized the photo of Ieshia Evans approaching the SWAT line, I'm questioning your direction.
I'm not saying the ads were intentional. But I am saying someone didn't care enough to research. I could question the diversity in the boardroom. I could wonder out loud about the people of color in your company who could have given perspective. I could inquire about the test groups used with products and ads, but that may take another article.
For now, I'll just offer to put together a multi-ethnic, multiracial group that provides a service that allows you to "ask a person of color." Because right now, your apology is landing about like your tone-deaf ads: flat and insulting.