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I Must Be A Monkey’s Uncle, or at least that is what H&M thinks.

I Must Be A Monkey’s Uncle, or at least that is what H&M thinks.

I must be a monkey’s uncle, or at least that is what H&M thinks.

People of the world once again we have another culturally tone-deaf advertisement by a major retailer. Surely by now, you are aware of the black child in a monkey hoodie ad by retailer H&M. That ad was so ridiculously culturally tone deaf that even pop singer The Weekend, got in on the commentary. If you follow him on Twitter, you will see his post about his embarrassment and shock. The Weekend says he is cutting ties with the Swedish brand.

Of course, H&M followed up with the typical obligatory statement, “We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken and we also regret the actual print,” H&M continues, “Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels but we also the garment from our product offering globally.”

I’m sorry, but that is not enough. The problem happened long before the ad was ever posted. The problem happened because H&M and companies like it don’t practice diversity and inclusion throughout their systems. When ads are allowed to go from conception to production, featuring little black kids, called the coolest monkeys in the jungle, with no one saying, STOP! It is a clear indication of two things:

  1. There is no diversity of thought in the organization. Everyone who touched this ad was on the same page that this was both an effective and appropriate ad.
  2. People from diverse backgrounds are not empowered to stop the process, or they are not included in the process.

Both points indicate a lack of creativity in advertising and a lack of understanding of the end consumer. H&M is going to scrap the jungle hoodie, but are they going to scrap the institutional procedures that allowed the ad and the shirt to be produced? Are they going to hire the right people? Are they going to solicit feedback from their consumers proactively? For all you companies out there selling products beyond one demographic, it matters who is room. From conception to completion it matters. It is not good enough or even economically feasible to bring in “diversity” after a concept is 10 miles down the road. At that point, the excuse is always, “But we’ve already put so much time and energy into (whatever the concept) we can’t turn back now.”

I don’t know how H&M is structured, but I can tell what companies like H&M, Dove, the YMCA, and others are missing, at least in their marketing departments: Intercultural Competency.

Many companies focus on quotas and surface-level diversity. But to achieve organizational goals, be profitable, and not waste money and resource due to cultural incompetence, companies need to look beyond tokenism. As companies think about diversity and inclusion they need to consider:

The who, the what, and the how.

  • Diversity: The Who (Who is in the room?)
  • Inclusion: The What (What are the goals, the climate, the opportunities?)
  • Intercultural competence: The How (How are you bridging the gaps of cultural difference?)
    • The capability to shift cultural perspective and adapt—or bridge—behavior to cultural commonality & difference
    • Cultural self-awareness
    • Understanding of the experiences of people from different cultural communities—in perceptions, values, beliefs, behavior, and practices
    • Behavioral shifting across these various cultural differences

As a qualified administrator of the IDI my goal is to help organizations and individuals (1) understand their current level of intercultural competence, (2) implement training and development to increase intercultural competence, and (3) create a baseline assessment to evaluate ongoing development. This goes well beyond race. In our increasingly global society, if organizations want to be relevant and grow, they need to be aware of the identity and cultural aspects that shape who people are. You must consider age, gender, religion, race, nationality, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, etc. These aspects of our culture impact how we see and receive information. Black kids in monkey hoodies don’t go over well in N. America, and Nazi swastikas don’t do well anywhere these days.

A while back I developed a tip sheet that organizations can use BEFORE starting promotional campaigns. Feel free to download and share. It is not that hard to ask the right questions. It is cheaper to start the process off on the right foot rather than to scrap a program that is already in development. Just make sure it is not a monkey’s foot. I hear they are bad luck.


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