8 Controversial Ad Campaigns Concerning Racial + Social Issues
The Weeknd's choice to sever ties with H&M, a big-time retailer that came under fire Monday (January 8) for peddling a seemingly racist article of clothing, is sadly nothing novel in the world of commerce.
The singer, who was a brand ambassador and released a line of clothing under the Swedish company in 2017, was one of many who voiced disgust at the sight of an ad that featured a young black model whose hoodie read "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle."
"woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. i’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore..." The Weeknd tweeted.
Still, as far as fashion and beauty go, the stunt is — unfortunately — probably not the last of its kind. Look back at a number of controversial ad campaigns that have totally missed the mark — particularly in terms of social issues and racial implications — below.
Urban Outfitters' Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt:
In 2014, the retailer drew total outrage when it began marketing vintage Kent State University sweatshirts that featured what looked like blood spatters. The image, of course, drummed up memories of the 1970s Kent State massacre, during which four students were shot and killed during a Vietnam War protest. Urban apologized, but the damage seemed to have been done.
Dove's Black-To-White Transformation:
The beauty magnate released a 2017 ad — marketed as a GIF — that featured women of different origins removing their shirts to reveal a new woman. But the image of a black woman removing hers to yield a white woman was offensive to many, who saw it as an allusion to late 19th-century and early 20th-century racist tropes: "a 'dirty' black person cleansed into whiteness," according to The New York Times.
China's Qiaobi Brand, Too, Releases Ad 'Cleansing' Black Person:
The 2016 ad found a woman pushing a black man into a washing machine, only for him to emerge as a cleaner Chinese man. The ad, which concludes with "Change, it all starts from Qiaobi laundry detergent pod," naturally sparked some serious outrage.
Abercrombie & Fitch's Asian-American Tropes:
In the early aughts, while Abercrombie was still king among teenagers, the retailer released a string of shirts that featured what looked like racist derivations of Asian Americans. Shirts read "Wong Brothers" and "Wok & Bowl" and featured small men with slanted eyes and sporting rice paddy hats. One even read "Two Wongs Can Make It White," according to SFGate.
Urban tops nod to concentration camp victims:
Urban has a history of offensive garb, and this was no exception: In 2015, the ACLU officially came out swinging against a top that included gray and white stripes that featured pink triangles — in other words, what Nazi soldiers would make gay men wear upon entering concentration camps. "Whether intentional or not, this gray and white stripped pattern and pink triangle combination is deeply offensive and should not be mainstreamed into popular culture," Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement.
Nivea's Purity Assessment's Washed Up:
Nivea's "White Is Purity" tagline in 2017 was pretty tough to recover from, particularly with its "Don't let anything ruin it" subhead. The company eventually pulled the ad after being justifiably slammed, according to The Huffington Post.
Nivea's 'Re-civilize Yourself' Ad:
Again, the company came under fire for an ad that seemed to insinuate that being black was something dirty (you can see the image here — it features a black man tossing a mask with an afro and beard to the wayside). "This ad will never be used again," the company insisted in an eventual apology. "Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company."
Sony Says "White Is Coming"
Sony's Dutch ad that was meant to promote a new portable Playstation console drummed up a whole lot of controversy. A related image, which read "white is coming," featured a white woman dressed in white grabbing the face of a black woman dressed in black — many consumers saw it as an all too clear nod to race wars and slavery.
Stars Caught in Career-Ending Scandals: