CEO and Co-Founder

Last week, high-street retail giant H&M found itself in the middle of a race controversy.

It faced a backlash after it emerged that its website carried a photo of a black child model was wearing a hoodie with the words "Coolest monkey in the jungle" featured on the front. 

H&M swiftly apologised, removed the image from its website and withdrew the item from sale. However, famous names from sport – such as Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku – condemned the brand on Twitter. American music star The Weeknd, who had a clothing line with the retailer, severed ties with the company.

The incident has been labelled as a PR disaster for the retailer, but what does YouGov BrandIndex data tell us about how the brand has been damaged?

Since the story emerged, H&M’s Buzz score (which measures whether someone has heard anything positive or negative about the brand in the past two weeks) has dropped sharply, from +1 to -8.

There has been a similar impact in the US. There, H&M’s Buzz score has declined by 11 points (from +5 to -6).

The story has got people talking on both sides of the Atlantic. H&M’s Word of Mouth Exposure score (whether someone has discussed the brand with somebody else) rose from +3 to +9 in the UK, while in the US it jumped from +5 to +9.

Of course, adverse headlines do not necessarily alter a consumer’s perception of a brand, especially if it has been well-regarded until that point. In this respect there is positive news for H&M in the UK. Its Impression score (whether someone has a positive impression of the brand) has barely moved since the story broke, and remains around the +17 mark – a score which compares favourably with its high-street rivals.

However, this is not the case in America, where its Impression score has fallen from +15 to +9. While this drop is not disastrous, in order to win back consumers that have changed their minds the retailer may need to stress that the incident was a genuine mistake, and that it has learnt from it.

Image Getty

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This article originally appeared in City A.M.

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