We have all seen the backlash that Swedish retailer, H&M, has experienced following a brand campaign that started off the new year.

If you haven’t, here’s a summary

In its 2018 green kid hoodies campaign, H&M used a black child to model a sweatshirt written ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.’ The company was called out for their ‘casual racism’ after the product and picture went viral on social media. The fact that other similar sweatshirts featured white kids made the racial slur even more obvious in light of the historical use of the word ‘monkey’. Well, H&M apologised but the damage has already been done. Brand ambassadors like the Weeknd and G-Eazy have pulled out of the brand amidst calls for boycott.

Now that you are up to date, here is the crux of the matter. 

Did H&M do this deliberately?

That’s the question on everyone’s lips. Important to note is that H&M is not the first company to pull such a stunt. It seems there is a template on how to go on about this: share tone deaf or racist content/brand product; spark anger online (especially); act so surprised that is offensive and then issue a long apology.

Brands like Dove and Pepsi have come under fire for the same. Dove published an advert on its Facebook page in which a black woman turned into a white woman. It later apologized for missing the mark. Pepsi and Kendall Jenner also faced the critics for the ad where Jenner gives one of anti-riot police officers a can of Coke. Critics felt that the ad was mocking the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Both Pepsi and Jenner apologized for the ad. For those in the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ camp think that leveraging on anger is a sure way of getting your product/idea noticed.  They would not question the ethical outlook of an ad or campaign as long as it has people talking and the campaign going viral.  And it seems to be working: already people are sharing videos of themselves acting like monkeys in H&M stores and others-including digital news sites- have been writing essays and articles on the campaign, creating waves in platforms both online and offline.

The other camp believe that publicity must always put the brand in a positive light. This means that the content should never erode the values or reputation of the brand. They posit that a brand can still be successful in their campaigns and ads without going for ‘manufactured scandal’ to become visible in this age and time of  viral content.

Our take: to avoid ‘missing the mark’ from the start, partner with an agency that understand your target in terms of context and culture and emerging issues. With such an agency, you will not only receive personalized strategy and outlook for your campaign but also create campaigns that express the vision and values of the brand.