The trend of racism marketing among luxury brands

The usage of controversy is quite common in the advertising world to drive marketing and advertising campaigns, PR stunts and promotional messages in an otherwise unconventional sense to reach business objectives. Over the years we’ve witnessed an array of campaigns that touched on social and political issues in an effort to open up difficult conversations in society but most importantly to increase brand presence and cultural relevance. The reasons vary in intent and motivation.

Interestingly enough this kind of marketing always seems to produce the desired effect. A recent example that I can think of is the Nike and Colin Kaepernick partnership that polarized further an already polarized America along racial lines.  

But nothing can be compared to the emergence of the recent phenomenon by luxury brands to exploit race and racial issues for branding and marketing purposes.

I’m not sure if there is a comprehensive study or academic paper out there that touches on this topic extensively. It would be nice to read such. As a researcher, anti-black racism is an issue that I follow very closely and with great passion.

Upon closer observation I’ve decided to look into this topical matter at hand, the trend of racism marketing among luxury brands.

What is racism marketing? Racism marketing is the opportunistic use of historical symbols, elements and objects of oppression that are encompassed by an undertone of white supremacy and subjugation of the previously oppressed. Black people are the obvious victims and their pain continues to be exploited for profit through grotesque marketing mechanisms that are racist to the core.

We may live in a world where racism is no longer a socially acceptable thing but most of us are not naïve or oblivious to the fact that it still exists and is deeply entrenched in the minds of many peoples of Caucasian descent.

White people control key strategic sectors of the economy and own virtually all means of production globally. In simple terms they run the show.

With regards to racism marketing, the latest brand to get into hot water is Gucci. The luxury brand released a poloneck/wool balaclava jumper that strongly resembles the blackface. The subtle racism did not go unnoticed. Gucci’s colours are black, green and red but curiously, on that balaclava jumper, the colour green was omitted. In turn what resulted or appeared was the black with a red, oval trimming around the mouth clearly mimicking the racist blackface.

Just to give you some context regarding the blackface if you’re not familiar with it; At the end of the American civil war, which had been about slavery, African Americans got their freedom. Legal slavery was abolished in 1865, however, the federal government did not make the necessary provisions for the formerly enslaved African Americans to start a new life or give them a head start that might lead to economic prosperity.

There was no compensation offered to the former slaves for their slavery, no reparations paid by the federal government and no land given to them to grow crops and survive. Instead these people were forced to rent land and paid their former slavers with a portion of crops harvested.

Life was hard for black people in the South after the war. They lived in abject poverty and wore torn clothes, begged for food and money on the streets. And then, as a result, some white men who saw this misery on black faces had the ‘genius’ idea to mimick this painful look  for their circus shows across the country. They painted their faces and drew large, exaggerated lips in white to make fun of the visible hunger pangs on the faces of these black people. They sealed it up by wearing torn and tattered clothes just like the poor blacks.

William H Westminstrel was one of the first white supremacist superstars who was famous for the blackface. His shows were synonymous with the racist blackface throughout America in the late 1800s.

That’s where the whole concept of clowns came from. Ronald McDonald is one clown whose benign and subtle racism is unknown to many who don’t understand the context and history of white supremacy.

So when Gucci released that balaclava jumper, which was clearly racist and in bad taste (and I assume they predicted there would be a backlash), many people were justifiably triggered. The backlash from the release of that balaclava jumper forced Gucci to recall it from its stores and take down all related marketing and advertising material. They then released a statement which read:

“We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make. We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.

Unfortunately for Gucci, they chose to practice racism marketing at a time when the black demographic and the rest of the world is already familiar with the modus operandi and the nitty gritties of that approach to selling. As such the apology is not believable and cannot be accepted because we know that it was part of the overall plan from conception.

This time we’ve reached a point that compels us to examine racism marketing shrewdly in order for us to understand how it works and why it is exists.

There have been other brands who’ve practiced racism marketing before. In early 2018, H&M ran a campaign that featured a black child modelling a hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle”, a decision that was met with so much fierce outrage. H&M’s stores were vandalized in Johannesburg by the EFF.

Heineken also took a bit of a bite at the racism pie with a 30 second tonedeaf TV ad showing a bartender sliding a beer past three black people to a lighter-skinned woman. The pay-off line for the ad was “sometimes, lighter is better.”

The luxury brand Moncler also refused to be left out in the racist parade. They made a black jacket with a design that is clearly racist as it was showing blackfaces all over.

Prada also got into it by making a key chain full of racist connotations. Beauty soap brand Dove also caused a stir and increased racial tensions with a facebook ad campaign that showed a black woman wearing a brownshirt. The 3 second facebook ad shows the woman taking off her shirt and transforming into a Caucasian woman.

In June of 2018, in America, Target stores ran a promotional campaign for fathers’ day, with one of the father’s day cards showing a black (African-American) couple. The imagery was underpinned with the culturally insensitive term “baby daddy.” They later apologized for the baby daddy card.

But why do these brands continue to practice racism marketing when it’s evident that there is always a backlash? Why do they continue to exploit black pain? What is it about us, as black people, that makes us the skunk of the world and a people whose humanity is not fully recognized.

Racial stereotypes and prejudice are a prevalent factor in any society in the world. However, when it comes to the oppression of black people, the issue is much deeper than meets the eye. We are considered an inferior people and our place is right at the bottom of the food chain. Just 100 years ago, a black man was literally nothing in this world.

Black people have been colonized, enslaved, conquered by European settlers, murdered and dispossessed of their land. Africa was almost robbed naked and yet we remain the most passive and forgiving of people. It’s like we’ve been cursed with this spirit of Ubuntu and good neighbourliness. 

Luxury brands are inherently racist, as could be expected and proven by the plethora of evidence that highlights the fundamental issue of racism in societies that are the homes of these brands, i.e, Europe and America.

Back in 2006, Rap artist Jay Z went to war with the French company Louis Roederer after it emerged that the company was not particularly pleased with the fact that rappers and the entire hip hop community were drinking their Cristal champagne and giving it free promotion in songs and music videos. The association and the perception created did not sit well with the snobbish, racist bourgeoise.

When the president of Louis Roederer was asked by Economist magazine about the developing association between Cristal and the “bling lifestyle.”, the man replied “that’s a good question but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

A whole president of a company went to a magazine interview and basically said, we don’t want your money. 

Jay Z, a fervent Cristal drinker in yesteryears, was understandably upset by this racist statement. He decided to boycott the product by pulling it off the shelves of his sports bars and night clubs like 40/40 and put out the word against the drink. Years later, in a song, he rapped “ I used to drink Cristal but them fuckers racist.”

The sad truth is that the attitude of Louis Roederer is common amongst luxury brands. The racism is deeply entrenched in those circles of white wealth. These companies are inherently racist and do not want association with blackness. Not even our money can cure them from their racism. They have demonstrated time and again that they do not want to be associated with us in any way, shape or form. They loathe blackness in all its manifestations. Racism is very much alive and Malcom X was correct in his observation that it’s just like a Cadillac. Every year they bring out a new model of it.

Therefore we must boycott all luxury brands that have shown us their racism. We must hurt them where it hurts the most, in the pocket. A well organized boycott of their product will have an effect on their profit margins. H&M would not survive if black people decided to boycott that shop.

If you’re black and love luxury brands, then I suggest you get into the culture of buying black ones. There are many products you can buy that are authentically black. Please click on this link to have a look at some of these brands to buy and do right by your people, culture and heritage.

We must support black businesses and enterprises. We must buy black all the time. Yes, there are some products and services which we currently do have ownership of as black people due to the massive differences in economies of scale and the sheer magnitude of the investments needed to set up those industries, but wherever we can we should buy black.

Racism will not stop until we stop supporting these racist institutions and start practicing group economics. In the words of the great Steve Biko, “Black man, you’re on your own.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s