Trading Bad Publicity for Brand Awareness & Growth?

I know you may think this sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. What if the offensive photo published by H&M was a part of a bigger plan? What if the child in the photo and the product in the picture were paired on purpose? I mean, are we really supposed to believe that in 2018, no one in the marketing department, or in any leadership position, looked at this ad and thought that it might face heavy criticism? I don’t watch much television anymore, but I could’ve sworn that I’ve seen a similar episode before.

As you may know by now, H&M recently came under fire after it was revealed that it published a controversial photo of an African American boy modeling a hoodie reading “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” on one of its websites. In a complete role reversal, The Weeknd, one of the celebrities who worked with H&M under an endorsement deal, cut ties with the company as result of the incident. Other public figures such as Lebron James, Alex Medina, Questlove, and Niecy Nash also shared their reactions to the offensive photo on social media.

There’s a saying that “all publicity is good if it is intelligent.” Basically, there’s no such thing as bad publicity if it’s thought out and used strategically. Now, in the interest of honesty and full disclosure, I’m no insider of the company. Also, I am not revealing information given to me by anyone in the marketing department of H&M or its affiliates. I’m just like everyone else who is trying to figure out how somethings happen. This is just  my theory (opinion).

How could H&M be so racially insensitive in 2018? Could there be another reason for such an oversight? While searching and trying to come up with answers, I discovered that the value of H&M’s stock has decreased steadily over the last few years, and is at an all-time low. Also, profits for the company have decreased by approximately twenty percent. During hard times, it’s not an uncommon strategy to seek a boost in brand awareness to jump start the numbers.

A post shared by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on Research suggest that bad publicity can be good for companies or products when they are relatively unknown. The rationale is that the main goal is to be seen. H&M is a relatively new company in the United States, opening it’s first U.S. store in March of 2000. Although there exists some awareness of the brand for avid shoppers, it’s name has not reached the levels of retailers who have long had a presence in the United States such as Macy’s, JCPenny, Ross, etc.

Questlove alluded to the standardized nature of responses provided by companies after instances like this. It happens all the time! Weak apology. Pull the ads. Empty gesture. It’s all routine! I’m tired of believing that this is a mistake or a coincidence. Sales, profits, and the company’s value are all down. It’s reasonable to assume that advertisement funds were insufficient, but now we are all talking about H&M. Is there a correlation between brand awareness and increased sales? All publicity is good if it’s intelligent.

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