However, H&M is also one of the brands with the most “error” advertising campaigns leading to a series of “boycott” movements of consumers around the world. And most recently, this brand has taken an action that makes citizens in two Asian countries get angry: China and Vietnam.
Change online map to appease the Chinese market?
The story began in September last year, on its official website, H&M announced to stop using cotton from Xinjiang because of “deep concerns” about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang, and confirming that the retailer had stopped buying cotton from growers in the region.
However, on March 24, fierce controversy has erupted in China with many calls for people to boycott H&M products. On the evening of March 24, media in China reported that H&M products were removed from all major Chinese e-commerce platforms such as JD, Taobao, and Pinduoduo. Searching for H&M keywords on these platforms also failed.
For a major brand struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the turnaround of China’s 1.4 billion population market may have dealt a blow to H&M. Because only a few days later, the company issued an apology with the desire to regain trust from customers.
However, on the evening of April 2, the ABCNews news site reported that Shanghai City, China City’s Shanghai municipal bureau of planning and natural resources requested the H&M brand to modify an online map.
The city government said “Internet users reported to the management of H&M’s website that there existed a‘ problematic map of China, ’and the Shanghai municipal bureau of planning and natural resources ordered it to be quickly corrected.”
H&M managers “corrected the error as soon as possible” after being summoned to meet with regulators, it said on its social media account.
However, the revised H&M map upsets the people of neighboring Vietnam, because they thought that H&M had added a so-called “cow’s tongue” or the nine-dash line to the map. This is inherently a fierce territorial dispute between China and Vietnam during the past time when China Beijing stakes claim sovereignty over this area.
But there is not yet a single exact photograph of H&M’s edited map that post on the Internet. Most of the photos posted by Internet users are old photos that China used to propagate about the “cow’s tongue.”
However, the information about H&M editing the map makes Vietnamese netizens get angry. Immediately, the hashtag #taychayHM appears on many Vietnamese social networks. Many people, including loyal customers, have vowed to boycott the brand.
Vietnam Internet users also left thousands of comments on H&M’s official fan page in Vietnam, asserting Vietnam’s sovereignty, as well as requesting H&M to revise the map following international conventions and laws. However, so far this company has not given any response.
Many people believe that this action by H&M is to defuse the anger of the Chinese citizens. Because the number of 12 stores in Vietnam is too small compared to the number of more than 500 stores in China.
Currently, as recorded in Vietnam, H&M stores in Hanoi are quite empty. However, in Hochiminh City, the number of buyers has not changed. It seems that information about the U-shaped line has not spread to most of H&M’s customers in Vietnam.
Vietnam Internet users also left thousands of comments on H&M’s official fan page in Vietnam
Chain of mistakes
It is not the first time H&M has fallen into advertising campaigns that alleged political or racist involvement.
In early 2018, the company released a very cute green hoodie, with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” However, the model wearing this shirt is a black kid. Twitter users were very angry. They called it racist.
Besides, a similar shirt but printed with the words “Mangrove Jungle Survival Expert” was worn by a white boy, making the online community even more aware that there is clear discrimination between the two models. Although H&M spokeswoman Anna Eriksson later apologized, netizens still refused to accept it.
In the advertising campaign for the accessory model “H&M Loves Music,” which is part of the 2013 Summer Music Festival welcome collection, the brand has met with fierce public opposition, especially from Native Americans because of the colorful feather-attached headband.
In the beliefs of North American cultures, the white-headed eagle is considered a very sacred bird, has a spiritual meaning, and is considered a messenger between the gods and humans. Eagle feathers are often used as a headband for tribal chiefs during important festivals. Therefore, the Native Americans believe that the things made of feathers are not items that are allowed to be sold or displayed arbitrarily.
H&M has also been criticized for promoting tanned skin. In 2002, in a swimsuit advertising campaign, H&M used a model with exceptionally tanned brown skin. This ad has caused fierce opposition from cancer groups. Because according to statistics, each year in Sweden, the number of people dying of skin cancer from sunbathing many times higher than the number of people who die from traffic accidents. Shortly thereafter, H&M had to apologize for these promotional photos.
Creative thinking or limit-exceeding?
However, many people believe that the online community is too strict with H&M’s advertising campaigns. It is thought that sometimes the online community is too sensitive, and accidentally hurts the characters in the advertising images.
In the case of the colored boy wearing a green hoodie in the promotional photo, the boy’s mother herself does not seem to be paying much attention to the noise involved in this matter. Miss Terry Mango couldn’t understand why people were making such a big deal just because of a picture of her son. She added that the stigma of people about the shirt is completely different from what she sees.
On the other hand, according to Rick Gibbs, an American HR coach and Forbes analyst, with highly creative businesses like H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, many corporate values, business philosophy ordinary joint can be changed. Because creativity needs the catalyst of freedom, comfort, and open-mindedness.
However, he argues that this distinct value can become a catalyst for over-actions, over-thinking, breaking rules and norms, leading to unintentional insults and touching to many people.
And the solution here is that when creating specific values for the company, the human resources department should not only focus on the unique points, helping employees feel authentic, close, create dynamism, inspiration, but also focus on the dark side, on the consequences they can bring.
In other words, when creating a unique value, the business also needs to identify the possible consequences associated with that value, giving specific examples for each case where these values can be affected.
As such, creativity may have no limits, but remember that our audience is human society, which is full of insurmountable limits and prejudices. Therefore, for any campaign to be launched, we need to look for conflicting views, accompanying dark sides. That is the real success of an advertising campaign.
The insane power of the online community
With the development of social media, social influence has become increasingly frightening. A small event, a call that can trigger the whole crowd to attack a certain subject quickly, massively, without waiting for any justification.
As the rise of social networks makes it easy to ignite the anger of the online community, multinationals find that they have to develop new tools to prevent possible undesirable harm arose out of the online world.
Business leaders and media experts say that the rapid spread of information online related to controversial issues by companies forces them to perfect a quick-response model with three phases: redundancy receipt, apology, and investigation.
“Today, you have to react within the first half-hour (after a controversial issue occurs) and we see it as a time that gives you a chance to troubleshoot. The longer you ignore the incident, the longer you will time your attention to public opinion,” said Christian Lawrence, a partner at communications crisis consulting firm Brunswick Group.
Many companies have set up separate departments to deal with media crises, in which the most important task is to make decisions when to acknowledge criticism, recalls products, and when to keep silent.
For the 2018 hoodie crisis, H&M subsequently formed a division responsible that includes members in the US and Europe. The company also re-installed quality control procedures to ensure that before a launch, products were evaluated by people in different departments.
However, with this mistake in 2021, for H&M now, even though it is very important to deal with the crisis, maybe it is even more important to learn lessons from the past./.