Everyone is wondering, what was the motive of the now infamous H&M campaign of the young black boy wearing the monkey sweater? Was it a case of creative gorilla marketing, pun not intended, or was it an attempt at the more technical offensive marketing tactic to push the envelop, provoke debate, gain social media attention and earn the brand free international publicity?
Attention At All Cost.
It’s well documented that the prime objective of most modern marketing and advertising campaigns is to try and create viral content to take a life of its own, gain notoriety, win free publicity, induce emotion to push conversation, connect with customers and drive up brand equity.
This campaign seems to carry all the hallmarks and characteristics of a clever emotional branding exercise because it has taken a life of its own, gone viral and it’s getting social media inertia, BUT, for the absence of positivity in the culturally inconsiderate execution. That’s before pointing out that the campaign crosses several no go frontiers of marketing: race and culture.
Some have suggested sarcastically that this was a genius strategy by H&M to connect with rising right wing white nationalism by sacrificing the black market segment, which has always remained loyal to brands, even after being insulted by the brands because blacks lack racial pride and consumer activism.
Irrespective, from a brand management perspective, all these suggestions do not make sense because the campaign simply swims against the current of marketing and brand management logic and practice. In essence, modern marketing is an effort to seduce people into long term intimacy with brands, insulting those you want to be intimate with is surely counter-intuitive.
No matter which way you look at it, this campaign was clumsy and culturally insensitive to have been a planned viral brand strategy, and if it was intentional it just renders the H&M marketing team as grossly naive or incompetent.
Nevertheless, we can not ignore what this ad says about the advertising and brand management culture in the world. The fact is, all across the world advertising, marketing and communication remain an exclusive white ivory tower of racial discrimination and exclusion, it’s a white club. Advertising like media continues to be an industry that is controlled by a few lilly white western global agencies who control information creation, communication and brand cognitive mapping all across the world.
These same monopolies also find themselves in global partnerships with other lilly white global corporations cocooning themselves in a protective shield of white ideology in the exploitation of the world.
The Moon And The Sun Revolve Around Europe.
The reason this happens is white supremacy manifests in an obsession to control and dominate; the obsession to control and dominate capital, resources, competition and this all starts with the control of human cognition and perception so that people can only see the world from a manufactured consent of the European ideal.
This level of mental manipulation and mind-control is sadistically akin to the German Nazi propaganda machine that controlled Central Europe in the 1940s.
Globalization was not just designed to be the domination of the world by capital and brands but the control of the world’s economic, social, cultural and political activities through western cultural control of human knowledge, thought, perception, imagination and ideas.
This western culture of the need to control has evolved western dogma into an engrained sub-conscious psyche, which in turn manifests a number of anti-social compulsions such as greed, dispassion, insensitivity, insincerity, cultural myopia, arrogance, cruelty, deceitfulness, racism, hate, objectification and ethnocentrism. All vices that have seeped in and corroded the heart of western institutional and corporate morality, which in this era where consumers are seeking authentic, emotive engagement could easily destroy western brands, losing them their control and position.
For centuries, non-white cultures and thought were seen as inconsequential to the western world, to the extent that western culture instinctively just did not pay attention to those cultures. Albeit, overtime this disregard of other cultures has seen westerners develop ethnocentrism, self reference and cultural myopia resulting in them losing the knowhow and ability to serve these growing market segments satisfactorily
So Out Of Touch With Reality.
As the culture of the world has changed incrementally over the centuries and other cultures have began ascending to economic relevance, Europeans have slowly become disconnected to the intricacies of those shifts. European organizations have slowly lost touch with the ever changing new normal because of their inconsideration of other cultures, to the extent that they are no longer aware of the cultural imperatives and exclusions to form meaningful relationships with non-Europeans in this new world, shifting quickly from westerncentric relevance.
Unfortunately, these behavioral shortcomings in relation to building human relations are detrimental for any organization in this age of social media, emotional marketing and authenticity. We now live in an era of emotional connection and relationship engagement, a time where intimacy, authenticity, affinity and trust are increasingly important values. It’s a spiritual age where the eyes of consumers have moved to mental senses and heart, no longer connected to physical senses, rational and analytical mind.
For a longtime western companies and agencies could get away with their bad habits and arrogance because communication was a science of talking to the rational mind of the consumer: needs versus product attributes, benefit over price. It was not about trust, truth, connection, care and love, so the creation of marketing propositions could be engineered cold-heartedly and objectively to talk to rationale and address tangible needs of the consumer. Consumers were programmable and to an extent they were predictable because the human mind was merely an organic computer memory that was as good as the information and programming input into it.
However, today, something is awakening in humanity. Consumers have stopped being consumers with needs and they have started transforming into people with emotions, desires and who actually want to know if their service providers care for them. The human spirit is rising over the mind, people are yearning for love, care and cultural acceptance due to years of emotional neglect.
Clearly H&M is a case of an impervious, lilly white, aloof global company, partnered by a Eurocentric advertising agency in an ecosystem of bad European cultural habits, that have resulted in the company losing connection with the changing world. This has resulted in them intentionally or unintentionally delivering a racist, culturally inconsiderate piece of communication that will damage their brand equity as non-white cultures continue to ascend as significant market segments, that will see H&M as irrelevant to their culture and values.
Every time H&M puts out communication in future, it will remind the market that they see black people as monkeys......even though this is not what they intended, it’s what is stuck in the minds of people in the market.
Rutendo Matinyarare brand and marketing strategist at Frontline Strat Marketing