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Feminism sells: The issue with H&M’s advert

Clothing brand H&M is once again trying to make their advertisements stand out: This time, by embracing feminism and diversity in a spot showing a new image of what it means to be “ladylike”. Despite being highly praised, the ad also faces criticism.


Armpit hair, business executives, French fries for lunch and queerness: H&M’s latest advertisement is embracing women of all kinds. Combining a cover of the song “She’s a Lady” and the celebration of female diversity, the ad and its artistic appeal were thoroughly praised. However, the one-minute clip also faces sharp criticism — despite even sounding overly edgy.

Anyhow, H&M has proven their point. Instead of hiring diverse looking actresses, the company worked with women embodying feminism in many ways: Boxer Fatima Pinto, transgender model and actress Hari Nef, Gurls Talk founder Adwoa Aboah. Moreoever, soul duo Lion Babe’s reinterpretation of a relatively misyogynist song was used to underline the clip’s statement. Combined with its hip sleekness, the video has been viewed 3,5 million times on YouTube already.  In case you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to watch it without fear and favour at this point before reading all about the ad’s criticism.

Of course, there is the notoriously dull criticism carried out by The Daily Mail, trying to attract readers with clickbait inciting headlines asking “Do these pictures REALLY sum up what it means to be a lady?” Other than disgustedly putting all of the terms questioned in the advert between quotation marks to state that what it means to be a ‘lady’ does not need to be ‘redefined’, there is not much left for the reader to discover. Anyways, this is not what I wanted to talk about.

In fact, H&M’s campaign was praised by many media outlets, such as the TIME, The Guardian, and also industry leaders like Cosmopolitan. From headlines claiming “H&M’s new campaign is the feminist advert we all need in our lives” to “We Can’t Stop Watching H&M’s Beautiful New Fall Ad”, positive reports about the ad quickly flooded the internet. Indeed, diversity in advertising is still rather unlikely and therefore receives a big chunk of extra coverage. Despite the compliment, the articles also bear in mind that showing women as they are should not be a feminist notion. However, when real-life policies still lack gender equality, at least feminist advertisements seem to be highly appreciated by mainstream media.

The campaign was not the company’s first approach of escaping a standardised, zero-sized, and westernised world of clothing advertisements. Last year, another H&M advert featured a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. That too resulted in increased debate about women’s depiction in advertisements. Slowly but steadily, more companies are taking the move towards a change in their advertising agenda; Adidas recently posted a photo of a same-sex couple on Instagram and virtuosically dealt with homophobic comments by affectionately defending their stance.

The love you take is equal to the love you make.

Ein von adidas (@adidas) gepostetes Foto am

Others strongly oppose the idea of big corporations capitalising the idea of empowerment and diversity only to sell their products. Gemma Clarke, founder of Global Hobo, wrote a piece about how H&M’s advertisement is promoting the idea that the company stands for something great. Next to earning a lot of free publicity, “the retailer hopes to sell the shit out of its latest range and make consumers feel good about themselves when they buy it.” Clarke then lists a number of reasons for why the company does not stand for what their promotional clip might suggest; Reported employment termination during pregnancy in Cambodia and minor refugees working in H&M factories in Turkey reveal that the precarious working conditions in the garment industry also continuously apply to H&M. Furthermore, Cambodian staff are still paid less than the industry median of $178 per month, even though the company initiated a Fair Wage Method project.

Still, H&M’s advertisement elicited discussions that are needed for achieving diverse approaches in advertising. Even though both advertisements and big corporations can be easily hated, we can unfortunately not abolish unequally distributed power just by hating it. For now, I most definitely prefer reflecting on advertisements promoting feminism over the ones that do not, despite being released by big corporations that also promote unethical fashion. The advert encouraged debate regarding the perception of women in media — not only for people wearing sue-on patches saying “Capitalism kills” or “Rebel girl” on their backpacks. Considering all of the advertisements that silently promote sexist depictions of women without even being questioned, it is nice to see the impact this advert has not on H&M’s sales increase, but public debate.

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