Bah H&Mbug
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Bah H&Mbug

Torontoist’s frustration with H&M has, in the past, been limited to its button-flys and men’s selection; not exactly earth-shattering stuff. H&M is, by most definitions, a public darling, helping to break apart the retail store stereotype that cheap in cost must mean cheap in quality, helping us all afford cashmere and merino wool.
But it’s not all roses and Madonnas for H&M. Known for aggressive advertising, the store has taken it to the next level to promote its new Queen Street West & Spadina store (opening August 16 at noon, if you’re so inclined). That next level? Slight obnoxiousness with a little illegal billboarding thrown in for good measure.

The first of the slew of new H&M ads wrap the 501 streetcars (pictured above). The newly-made-up cars—all black and red, like if the TTC streetcars were driven by some kind of evil superhero—do look kind of bad-ass, so long as you choose to ignore the awkward slogans on their sides, which read “Everyone on board is going to our new store!” and “Take this streetcar to your new favourite hangout.” The streetcars become, then, something like joke guerilla Ikea shuttle buses. On streetcar shelters for a few blocks east and west of Spadina (like the one just outside the store’s front doors, pictured below), it’s more of the same: “Welcome to your new favourite hangout,” “Hey fashionista! Are you ready for a new one?”, “Just another H&M? Think again!”, and so on. The slogans are part-confusing (one, technically, asks fashionistas if they’d be ready for additional fashionistas, and there are three other H&Ms around the city, including one a few blocks east at the Eaton Centre), part-presumptuous (who is really going to go and “hang out” at an H&M?), and part-simply-not-true (surely people on the streetcar have other things to do on Queen West).
In spite of the streetcar and shelter wraps’ slight obnoxiousness, they are mostly legal. (There are ads on the inside and outside of the shelters; those on the outside violate the city’s rules, but if you take offense, a source tells us that the ads on the outside of the shelters are essentially big stickers and are super-easy to peel off.) It’s H&M’s ads elsewhere, however, that are just outright against Toronto’s laws.
The ever-vigilant Rami Tabello from posted earlier today about the company’s four illegal billboards announcing the store’s opening: three along Queen West at 312, 269 and 194, respectively; as well as the big offender, the building’s huge facade (pictured at the top of this article). As Tabello notes, “the signs by-law prohibits first party signs that face a street from being larger than 30% of the building face of the storey upon which it is erected and such signs may not be erected higher than the second storey.” H&M’s sign, a big ‘ol ad for, well, a “Top,” takes up more like 60% of its face, and stretches all the way to its roof.
So, will the new store be “just another H&M”? Maybe not—even though it looks identical to the Yorkville location outside—but the company is sure up to the same old tricks. No stranger to illegal signage in Toronto, a Star article from May detailed one seven-storey bikini ad that was intended to target drivers coming off of the Don Valley Parkway, which led Councillor Shelley Carroll, bless her heart, to say, “I hope you’re not looking at boobies when you have to get out of the HOV lane.”
This is not to say that there aren’t worse offenders of illegal advertising in our city or clothing companies with worse taste or ethics; there are plenty of both. What’s so disappointing is that H&M can’t seem to consolidate its two images: one, of a loved inexpensive clothing retailer, and the other, of a company breaking the laws of the city and of good taste with its advertising.
UPDATE (August 14): The advertisement on H&M’s front has been removed.
All photos by David Topping.