Balenciaga cops flak for 'tasteless' and 'insulting' Chinese Valentine's Day ad

Balenciaga has come under fire for its gaudy ad featuring its latest limited-edition Hourglass handbags, in celebration of Qixi, China's version of Valentine's Day. The campaign picture on Balenciaga's Tmall store, an online retail platform operated by Alibaba, shows a male model handing a female model a red Hourglass handbag with the Chinese words "He loves me" written on it. In the background is a waterfall and surrounding them are red roses and red balloons that clearly look photoshopped.

Netizens on Weibo criticised the campaign for being tasteless and unfashionable. One even commented on Weibo that for those who do not think it is an insult to the Chinese but high fashion are bootlickers. Some were confused as to why there would be a misunderstanding about Chinese culture and whether the brand is intentionally trying to embarrass them or ingratiate itself with Chinese consumers. Meanwhile, one netizen did not find the ad tasteless but in fact, contained Chinese characteristics. The netizen added that such out-of-date style is trendy among the younger generation nowadays.

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The hashtag #巴黎世家七夕广告 土 (#BalenciagaChineseValentineCampaignUnfashionable) had over 22,000 discussions and 1.9 million views on Weibo. Meanwhile, the hashtag #巴黎世家辱华 (BalenciagaInsultsChinese) garnered 6,030 discussions and more than 152 million views. A quick check by Marketing on Weibo found that Balenciaga has yet to respond to the online furore that has unfolded.

Balenciaga is not the first international luxury brand to come under the Chinese online firing squad. In recent years, brands such as Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) came under the cross hairs or Chinese netizens for its solemn Chinese New Year campaign in 2019 and for being allegedly racist. Last year, Burberry was criticised for unveiling a Chinese New Year campaign deemed too "sombre" and "horrific". One of the campaign images posted on Burberry's Twitter page featured eight solemn looking models across generations posing for a family photo in Burberry outfits. According to the brand, the picture was meant to celebrate "togetherness", an important value in Chinese New Year.

Meanwhile two years ago, there was much hullabaloo around D&G being accused of racism after publishing three ads which demonstrate a Chinese woman being told how to use chopsticks to enjoy Italian food, according to various media reports. This eventually led to founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana apologising in a Weibo video, adding that it has "seriously reflected" on what the company's words and actions have brought upon the Chinese people and China and are "deeply saddened".

The apology came a tad too late as eCommerce sites such as Tmall, JD.com, Vipshop and Yanxuan pulled D&G products off their sites, while Hong Kong retail company Lane Crawford also dropped the luxury brand. Other global eCommerce platforms such as Yoox Net-a-Porter and Secoo have delisted all D&G products on its Chinese websites. Meanwhile, Chinese celebrities including Zhang Ziyi, Chen Kun and Li Bingbing also declined to attend its fashion show in Shanghai following the incident.

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