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Controversial ad leads to Gap apologising

Clothing line Gap has apologised for its latest ad for the kids clothing line after several Twitter users deemed the ad “racist”.

The children’s range, which was launched in collaboration with celebrity talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, shows two white girls doing remarkable aerobic stunts while a black girl standing as an armrest for another tall white girl.  The caption reads: “Meet the kids who are proving that girls can do anything.”

Take a look at what the Twitter-verse is saying:

However, others have defended the brand saying that last year, a similar shoot was done with a black girl resting her hand on top of a smaller white girl, but no issue was then raised.

The online backlash has ultimately resulted in the brand apologising and replacing the image: “As a brand with a proud 46-year history of championing diversity and inclusivity, we appreciate the conversation that has taken place and are sorry to anyone we’ve offended.”

The company added the GapKids campaign was created to highlight true stories of talented girls who are celebrating creative self-expression and sharing their messages of empowerment.

“We are replacing the image with a different shot from the campaign, which encourages girls (and boys) everywhere to be themselves and feel pride in what makes them unique,” the statement read.

While with its apology Gap has undoubtedly recognised its shortcomings with this particular campaign, it begs the question of whether an apology was really necessary. Too often today, brands are quick to hide behind an invisible cloak of apology following any form of campaign criticism.

We ask several creative leads what their views are on the matter.

Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director of creative agency Formul8 was of the view that this was done more so to nip the social media fiasco since racial issues have a way of spiraling out of control.

“I think brands are too knee-jerk reactionary now because social media ends up being a monster in the court of popular opinion. I don’t think the ad was racist, if it was reverse, I doubt if anyone would have kicked a fuss. Sometimes I think consumers take the “this is racist” card way too far,” she said.

Robert Gaxiola, co-founder/creative director of manghamgaxiola mcgarrybowen – A Dentsu Aegis Network Company, added that any campaign can come under fire- especially when they are casting minority talents in the US market. He said:

With today’s social soapbox, brands should always be prepared to respond because crises can catch fire within minutes.

“Everybody has a say in the conversation and the Gap chose to respond at just the right time. The speed of the response felt right to me. They didn’t let the problem boil over while they sat back silently and hoped it would go away. What’s good here is that the Gap listened, and addressed the issue at hand directly. They were not defensive nor did they try and push the blame to somebody else,” said Gaxiola.

He added that both Ellen DeGeneres’ and Gap is nowhere near racist.

“Gap has practiced racial-diversity in its company and its advertising campaigns for years. And this could be one reason why the San Francisco based company is so sensitive to such comments. Making an apology on their part shows that they did listen and felt a need to respond appropriately,” he added.

Lara Hussein, managing director of M&C Saatchi Malaysia however added that the ad was insensitive and not thought through properly.

What were they thinking? The company should actually apologise and take responsibility for the ad that could have been expressed better.

Meanwhile, SP Lee of managing director and executive creative director of Dentsu Malaysia said perhaps the real question is what would the reaction be if the roles were reversed.

“I do not know enough to comment on the politics of colour and creed in the US. I personally do not see the ad as racist. […] Are people overly sensitive and see symbolism when none was intended? Has Gap explained why the girls were depicted so?”

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