It certainly isn’t ‘new’ news that brands sometimes get it wrong – a poorly thought through new product launch, a campaign or event which ends up causing a level of offence or embarrassment is, and always has been, pretty commonplace. These moments can range from slight egg on face through to full existential crisis.
Remember the disastrous change that Coke made to their formula? It was to better compete with the ‘great taste ‘ of Pepsi but ended up in them changing it back to the original formula. More sinister, the Volkswagen diesel deception, which rightly ended up in a hefty fine. The Samsung issues around the Galaxy Note catching fire, the allegation that Apple deliberately slow down older iPhones. None of this seems to matter though, right? People will still buy iPhones and drink Coke.
But more worrying are the recent examples of brands ‘appearing’ to be making oversights which have racist implications. Consider the following for a moment:
- October: Dove remove an ad from Facebook showing a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath. The ad was for bodywash.
- January: H&M feaure a black child on their UK website wearing a hoodie with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle”
- January: Italian cosmetics brand Wycon release a black nail polish called “Thick as a N****”
- March: Heineken pull their “sometimes lighter is better” ad which shows their light beer slide along a bar past three black people before being received by a woman with lighter skin.
There are other examples here.
Some people within the industry now claim these kind of activities are done on purpose to create publicity.
Can this actually be true? If so this is truly shocking.
But then again is not even 17 years since Robertson’s decided to remove their Golly character from their jars of jam and marmalade.
So what’s the problem here? Too many white people in positions of power and authority?
Invariably the answer is ‘yes’. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be non-prejudiced might need to re-think this position.
There is clear evidence out there that white people are intrinsically biased against non-white people and therefore these clear instances of negligence are less likely to be spotted.
We see this thanks to research by Harvard using a technique called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The test aims to uncover our unconscious preferences – you can take the race test by clicking here. The results (you’ll see them when you complete the test) both for the individual and overall are really quite shocking. Personally I consider myself to be completely non-prejudiced but my results tell me otherwise.
So what’s the fix here. If there is so much intrinsic prejudice out there, if some brands are actually seeking publicity though this kind of activity then how should this be tackled? Regulation? Consumer action? True diversity in the workforce? All of the above.