Sunday, December 04, 2016
The video above, “Come Together”, is a Christmas video for Swedish multinational clothing retailer, H&M. It was directed by Wes Anderson, and stars Adrien Brody. It’s certainly elaborate! And yet, my reaction was restrained.
The video plays on the theme of Christmas bringing people together, in this case telling a fantasy-like tale of people stuck on a train when they expected to be at their destination for Christmas. It’s nice enough, I think, though of course it’s all about generating warm fuzzies for the company, as most commercials are, at least in part. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but we should be honest about what these sorts of videos are all about. On the plus side, it’s not a crass hard sell of their products!
H&M recently opened their first store in New Zealand, and I haven’t been to it, mostly because I never go to the mall where it’s located. As far as I can remember, I’ve never been to any of their stores in any other country, either. There was great excitement about it opening in Auckland, with long queues of eager customers waiting to get in. I don’t personally understand that, though I was recently similarly excited and eager for the opening of a local Sal’s Pizza. I think that other retailers might excite me like that, too—I’m just that into clothes shopping, to put it mildly.
When the NZ store opened, it was met with protesters, too, primarily over the company’s poor record on the treatment of textile workers. The protests made the evening news, but the New Zealand Herald barely mentioned it in their otherwise breathless-with-excitement live blogging of the opening. Fairfax’s Stuff, meanwhile, did a better job of reporting on the protests, but Radio New Zealand (which now prefers to be called “RNZ”) published a report specifically on the protests, without all the breathless, fawning hype, including reporting that a protest organiser said that “[mall] security and H&M staff formed a wall and redirected foot traffic away from the protesters so customers would not see them.”
All of which raises the question of ethics: Is it okay to be so excited about the opening of a store when there is so much need in society? Is it ethical to patronise a store when the retailer continues to be dogged about allegations of bad labour practices? Those are questions people have to answer for themselves, and I personally don’t judge people for whichever choice they make—after all, I have an iPhone, and I have no idea who makes the clothes I buy or under what conditions they were manufactured. It’s fair for people to raise ethical questions, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge people for the choices they make, especially when it’s so hard to find verifiable facts. We all make choices, and most of us do the best we can.
My bigger concern was the fawning media coverage of the opening of a multinational company's store. We can understand the NZ Herald doing it—the chain will probably buy print ads in their paper. Fairfax may see some advertising, too, but without a daily paper in Auckland, it won’t benefit as much, if at all. RNZ, on the other hand, is a public broadcaster without advertising—or the need to fawn over them.
And that’s probably part of the reason the H&M video left me feeling a bit flat. I’m aware of the controversies around the company’s labour practices and other issues, and I’m aware that this is a foreign company when there are so many struggling New Zealand and Australian retailers. Most of all, though, it’s that clothes shopping is something I both loathe and dread doing. Even my reaction to a Christmas video can be complicated, and I’m keenly aware of how silly that is.
I thought the video was nice enough, but I would be curious to know what other people think.