As an owner of a marketing and PR firm, I have always been amazed at the PR nightmares large brands get themselves into with expensive ad campaigns that seemed so clueless, ill-timed, and often with a complete lack of common sense. The backlash of H&M's recent "duh" ad featuring a black child model wearing a hoodie with a monkey and saying "coolest monkey in the jungle" inspired me to gather some of the most controversial and unbecoming ads in recent years.
Pepsi Let's start with the Pepsi commercial starring Kendall Jenner. From a marketing standpoint, I could somewhat understand what Pepsi was trying to do with the ad, attempted to identify and "unite" demonstrators and the police as equals and human beings who all could use a refreshing beverage and feel better afterwards despite their difference in objectives. While I don't think Pepsi was trying to make light of the tension and seriousness of the #BlackLivesMatter protests nor minimize the feelings of the activists who committed to the movement, their attempt to make a feel-good commercial backfired because it was just not the right time nor place. With true concern, anger, and fear, how did Pepsi advertising team didn't think that this ad would be deemed as improper is beyond me. Although I'm curious, if the ad didn't feature Kendall Jenner but a respected and loved black celebrity like Kerry Washington or the awesome Taraji Henson, will the public be just as angered? What do you think? But you KNOW you've screwed up when Dr. King's daughter is calling you out! SMH at Pepsi.
Nivea There's no way I will miss Nivea on this list. Their "White is purity" is the most tone-deaf and ill-advised campaign I've ever seen. I don't even have to explain what the ad featured, the slogan alone is stupefying. Again, as a marketing person I can understand boasting purity with a deodorant. Who wants residue?! But "white"?! Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time Nivea committed an insensitive ad crime. Their 2011 men's ad campaign featured a clean cut black man about to toss a HEAD with an afro and beard away with a message "Re-civilize Yourself". Twice?! Needless to say, I haven't bought any Nivea products since and will not ever.
Vogue The fashion industry has long been criticized for not being very inclusive. Everyone from Gucci to Marc Jacobs to Vogue have all been accused of whitewashing and deterring diversity. Now, there's nothing wrong with playing dress up and white models wearing Geisha outfits and makeup is not a big deal. Unfortunately, this was for a supposedly diversity issue by Vogue celebrating diversity! You're in Japan doing a diversity shoot, don't you think it'll make sense to feature an Asian model as a Geisha?! Instead, Vogue decided to use Karlie Kloss, a white model, with Geisha makeup and attire as a 6-page feature of their (again) DIVERSITY issue. On any other issue, I don't think it's a big deal as fashion includes playing dress up at times. But don't attempt to spew support of diversity and inclusion when it's so obvious that you didn't think an Asian model would've been able to pull it off as well as their white counterpart.
Bloomingdale's Do you remember Bloomingdale's eggnog ad? It featured a woman laughing and looking away while a man was gazing at her desirably. What's so bad about that you asked? Well, there's a caption that said "Spike your best friend's eggnog when they're not looking." The ad stirred anger with many criticizing Bloomingdale's for supporting and/or ignoring the seriousness of date rapes. I don't blame them. The entire advertising department failed with this creepy ad.
So which ad was the worse in your opinion? Honestly, all these advertising departments or agencies need is diversity within their team. Maybe then, they'll be someone who'll tell them "Stop, this is inappropriate" before rolling out campaigns that become PR nightmares. H&M did hire a diversity leader in response to the recent incident. Too bad these conglomerates don't value a diversity expert until something goes wrong. How about some sensitivity training in the workplace too?
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@YvonLux is a serial entrepreneur who owns a marketing and PR firm, VANT4GE, LLC, that specializes in target marketing, social media marketing and personal branding. The published lifestyle blogger also owns and designs for her custom-clothing line, Yvon Lux, and manages her empowering Apple News channel with the same name.