Sunday, 21 January 2018

H&M Reputation is Damaged

Ishola Ayodele (Strategic Communication Strategist)

"H&M Reputation is Damaged" is a Huffington post headline on the 15th of January, 2018. 

About H&M
H & M stands for Hennes & Mauritz AB. It is a Swedish multinational clothing-retail company known for its fast-fashion clothing for men, women, teenagers and children.

The Crisis

In an attempt to reposition the company in order to attract the black community. The H&M PR and Marketing Communication team came up with an ad which they believed will appeal to the blacks.
In the ad on their website, a young black boy wore a green hoodie with the inscription "The coolest monkey in the jungle".

Public Reaction
Rather than attracting the black community, H&M incurred the wrath of everybody. There was massive condemnation of H&M. They were accused of being a racist organization.
Rap star P. Diddy, Football Star Romelo Lukaku & and Basketball Star LeBron James were among the many celebrities who criticized H&M.
In South Africa, H&M's largest market in Africa the criticism and condemnation was so much that people began to call for a boycott of H&M's Stores.

H&M's Response

1. H&M issued an apology.
“Our position is simple, we have got this wrong and we are deeply sorry,” (The UK Express, 2018)
2. The company withdrew the ad.
The ad was removed from all their marketing Campaigns. 


1. Despite their apology there was still mass boycott call from the people.

2. There was protest against H&M.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a South African revolutionary socialist political party held several protest in front of all the H&M stores in South Africa.

3. Disruption of business. The EFF started chasing shoppers out of H&M's stores.

4. According to CNN, Two high-profile celebrities G-Eazy and The Weeknd canceled their contracts with H&M over this racism row.

5. According to CNN, H&M closed all its stores in South Africa after the Jan. 13, 2018  protests by EFF.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, spokesman for the ultra-left EFF, tweeted “The time of apologies for racism are over; there must be consequences to anti-black racism, period!”

 PR Lessons

1. The Audience not the brand, organization or leader owns the message.
The earlier we understand this as Communicators the better for us.
H&M got it wrong right from the onset. CNN did a research on the H&M PR team that came up with the ad and found out that they were all whites. In my article titled, 'Communication without Communicating' published in Brandwatch and PR Quarterly magazines. I stated that, the new approach to communication is outside-in.
 Communication does not start with the brand, organization or leader it starts from the mind of the audience because communication is not about talking it is a mind connection.
How Can H&M claim they want to penetrate the black community market without having any black among the people that designed the ad?
How can they claim they don't know that *Monkey*is the racial slur used for blacks by racist?
If it smells like racist, looks like racist then it is almost certain it is racist.

2. There is no short cut to Effective Comm.
I have said times without number that it is not what you say but what the people hear that determines their reaction.

Let us assume that all the members of the H&M's PR team didn't know that using the word Monkey to describe a black person is insulting. (Which is unlikely)
They should have tested this ad with a small group of blacks that are not familiar with their brand and also seek Expert advice.

The 21st century audience is more sophisticated and powerful than most brand imagine. They have their perspectives and biases on issues.

Consequently, to effectively target this audience our message must start from their mind, we must find a way to make them own the message as if it was their idea by using words that provoke our intended meaning in their mind and not words that provokes negative thoughts.

Communication now is not just an art it is more of science, we want them not to only understand what we are saying but also feel what we felt. The old saying of *creating value for customers* has been replaced with *Co-creating value with customers*. And we don't serve customers any more, we collaborate with customers now.

To have access to over 100 case studies with insightful and thought provoking ideas order for the PR Case Studies; Mastering The Trade learning resources. Contact me on 08077932282.



  1. I enjoyed reading your article :) PLease continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from

    I think this article will fully complement your article.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It gladdens my heart to know that you liked it.