Foreign luxury brands have had their share of marketing flops in China. Amongst the most memorable was a promotional video campaign by Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana that showed a shy Chinese model struggling to eat spaghetti, pizza and a long Italian pastry (a cannoli) with chopsticks. Supposedly ‘edgy’ it backfired badly and sparked a customer boycott on accusations of racism (see WiC434). And then there was Burberry’s strange Chinese New Year tribute which many likened to a horror film.
The latest in the firing line is Balenciaga, which is owned by Paris-based Kering. It released a new campaign recently to celebrate the Qixi Festival, also known as China’s Valentine’s Day (it falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar – this year that is on August 25).
The ad featured a male model giving Balenciaga’s latest Hourglass handbag – decorated with a Chinese-style graffiti font reading “He Loves Me” – to a woman. She looks suitably awestruck about the gift (the bag’s retail price is Rmb13,900). All this takes place against a backdrop of a fake waterfall flanked by red roses and hearts. Netizens were unimpressed. Many called it “tacky” and “tasteless”, while some even denigrated it as “insulting to Chinese culture” because of the graffiti and the unsophisticated staging.
“Is this taken in a rural photo studio in the 1990s?” one queried.
“Is this for real? Balenciaga, there must have been some misunderstanding in your perception of beauty in the eyes of Chinese luxury shoppers,” another lambasted.
Foreign brands that miss the mark in trying to appeal to the Chinese market sometimes find themselves in the firing line from younger consumers. Sensitivities seem highest when shoppers perceive that the brands are treating them too differently from fashionistas in other countries or generalising about local tastes in a way that the consumers find jarring.
Louis Vuitton also recently encountered this with the unveiling of its Spring 2021 men’s collection in Shanghai, which became a ‘trending’ topic, although not for the reasons it anticipated.
Some of the French fashion house’s new pieces featured stuffed animals as embellishments to its coats and jackets. An oversized teddy bear clung to the lapel of a deep blue suit in one design, while a stuffed scorpion decorated a lightning yellow outfit in another, for instance. The designer talked up the notion of portraying a sense of child-like innocence in the collection.
But the interpretation was different from Ye Zi, formerly Elle China’s editor, who thought that the pieces were deliberately geared towards Chinese consumers on the basis that Asian cultures “love” cartoon characters. Other critics weren’t as keen either.
“All you need to do is to go to IKEA to pick up one of the stuffed toys or get one of the Sesame Street characters, apply some basic sewing skills and you will find yourself with the latest outfit from Louis Vuitton,” Tencent Entertainment, a portal, wrote.
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