6 Racist Brand Fails (apologies in advance)
Gimmicky titles that celebrate other’s failures are so undignified…but for brands who are communicating in these unprecedented times, ending up on one of these lists and suffering the blowback from poorly conceived ideas is a real threat to your reputation and, of course, bottom line.
While my main interest is in the crossover between innovation, cognitive diversity and culture, brands failing spectacularly, while perhaps entertaining, offer some critical insights into the systems that gave birth to such bad ideas. As companies scramble to “fix the problem” of diversity by setting quotas of “diverse” hires, it’s easy to lose sight of the value that diversity and inclusion (when implemented thoughtfully) can yield.
This topic is broad and requires some thoughtful examination. To see real potential that diversity of thought can unlock in an organization would take some time and focus.
Let’s not do that.
A friend once said, “save, make or preserve money — that’s the job in business.” Instead of looking at all of the unseen potential to make money or optimize for efficiency, let’s look at some glaring examples where mono-culture and ignorance has resulted in companies losing money and brand value in spectacular fashion.
There are many “brand fails” out there to choose from. And they all seem to share a certain lack of thoughtfulness. But we have focused in on some fails whose poor thinking reflect an obvious lack of diversity of thinking in the decision making process.
The following examples have been picked for to fit a simple criteria: “would this have ever seen the light of day if a person of color, empowered to speak up, was in the room when people gave the green light on this?”
- Heineken: “sometimes lighter is better”
This one writes itself…and then goes beyond that to show a bottle of Heineken sliding past multiple black people, stop along side a glass of white wine, then picked up and taken into a gathering of white people.
It didn’t take long for the uproar to ensue. Cue Chance The Rapper and his 8.3M Twitter followers.
Heineken even got some free press from Trevor Noah.
2. H&M: “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle”
Clearly no people of color in the room…
Even today, this campaign pops up in the first 5 searches for H&M and a search for H&M coolest monkey yields these top top results:
3. Dolce & Gabbana
Being provocative or even subversive is native to the world of fashion and a a wide berth is granted for experimentation. Fashion is also prone to being insular, elitist and tone deaf to the outside world. Dolce and Gabbana may have fallen victim to their own sense of sophistication when they thought it was edgy and ironic to show a Chinese model fumbling to eat Italian food with chopsticks. Unfortunately, people found it unfashionable to cartoonishly portray 20% of the world’s population as fumbling simpletons who haven’t figured out how to eat.
Calls for boycotts ensues, even causing the Chinese government to weigh in.
4. Pepsi: Kendall Jenner saving the world from riots
This 2017 ad has not aged well. Not only was the ad blissfully unaware of rising tensions, it used them as a backdrop to promote itself.
The ad has had a bit of a renaissance recently prompting rounds of tweets, retweets and keeping Pepsi’s name in the press for being on the wrong side of history.
5. Target “Baby Daddy”
Looking high and low for a Father’s Day card depicting black people, shopper, Takeisha Saunders finally found one…. Her post went viral, winding up splashed across major news outlets like CNN and the New York Times not to mention social media feeds.
'Baby Daddy' Father's Day Card Pulled From Stores After Criticism
Takeisha Saunders was browsing Father's Day cards at a Target store in Dallas in late May, looking for something…
6. Sony Playstation: “White is Coming”
It’s hard to imagine this one getting green lit today. Though we shouldn’t be so sure. The blatant white domination theme expressed seems so obvious that we really have to wonder what the mentality was that allowed a chain of decision makers to let this pass all the way through to production.
While these massive blunders might be shocking, upsetting, laughable or just entertaining, they point to a lack of institutional awareness. The lack of awareness is endemic, from hiring practices to marketing practices. The public sentiment is clear: blindly ignoring societies inequities is not ok any more. For brands, slip ups like this reaffirm the notion that our monied institutions are not concerned with the welfare of all people. While a company may feel moved to take action on diversity and inclusion to mitigate the risk of one of these spectacular blunders, the real value is to be found in creating systems of diversity where ads like this wouldn’t even occur as options.