For the past few days, a particular news item has been making rounds especially on social media and international news, about an H&M ad that featured a young black boy in a hoodie with “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” inscribed on it. To some, this was no big deal, but to others, this was a typical example of the racism they have been talking about on a regular basis.

The term ‘monkey’ has for some time now often been associated with racism in major industries such as soccer, entertainment, politics etc. The use of such a word, therefore, ended up overshadowing the real purpose of the ad: to advertise a colorful kids’ hoodie.

H&M (full name, Hennes & Mauritz AB) is an international clothing company, of Swedish origin. It serves a wide customer base, ranging from teens to adults. With its worldwide operations in about 62 countries, it has been described as the second-largest global retailer in clothing. It makes good use of the internet as well to sell its products.

In an era that is characterized by “knowing our rights” and “fighting for what is rightfully ours”, customers have become increasingly sensitive and could be offended by the least provocation. In response, marketers need to be extra careful in what they post, especially as social media has now boosted the rate at which information is circulated.

The question is, what lessons can any progressive business learn from this unintended but far-reaching error on H&M’s part?

  • Thorough research always needs to be carried out

No matter how large a brand gets, it’s always important to conduct thorough research before a product or service is out-doored. What are the current trends, be it demographically, geographically, on social media etc.? And how can the business remain relevant yet sensitive at the same time in response to such trends?

  • Little things matter

Though some people do not really see what the big deal with this whole issue is, the reality is that people can and always will get offended, even by the seemingly little things. Businesses, therefore, have to put in an effort in making their customers feel special at all times. So much as an omission or addition of a particular word could make or break a marketing campaign. Businesses, therefore, need to tread cautiously, keeping in mind the ‘power of little.’

  • Rapid response is usually the best

Some parties feel H&M’s apology is too little, too late. Customers always look out for what businesses do in order to control any damage that arises. One great example of the power of prompt response is in the case of the delivery company, FedEx. A customer had an issue with a courier who tossed a package at him. The customer found unacceptable especially as the item was breakable. This created some backlash for the brand, but FedEx responded in no time. Aside creating a video in response to the incident, FedEx also made an effort to meet with the customer face to face and replace the damaged item. In addition, the company posted a short but sincere article on its site to further rectify the situation. Below is a brief excerpt of that article, titled, Absolutely, Positively Unacceptable, taken from

“I know you recognize that this absolutely does NOT represent the professionalism and dedication of the 290,000 FedEx team members worldwide. It is one person and one package. While many people are publicly speculating about what will happen to the employee, FedEx takes care to protect team members’ privacy as well as our customers’ privacy.  We do take this matter extremely seriously and have initiated action in accord with our disciplinary policy while respecting privacy concerns. Without going into detail, I can assure you that this courier is not delivering customer packages while we are going through this process.

While this delivery fell way short of those high standards, we are already using it as a learning opportunity. We’ve shared this video internally to remind everyone that every single package is important to you, our customers and that actions like this are totally unacceptable. We are also going to build this into our training programs as a constant reminder of the importance of earning — and keeping — your trust with every single delivery.  We hope that you, like the customer involved in this incident, will see it as an unfortunate exception that proves the rule that our company cares for its customers.”

This incident was eventually forgotten and the brand is still making huge strides today.

H&M eventually did apologize, but the repercussions could stick around for quite some time. Granted, not everyone may get offended by the least thing, but companies do need to be more careful with the messages they put out there.