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.
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.
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".
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?