Yoga and activewear brand lululemon is drawing mixed sentiments after it saw backlash against its Chinese New Year campaign featuring Malaysian actress and producer Michelle Yeoh.
According to media intelligence firm CARMA, the campaign garnered 28.8% positive sentiments and 14.4% negative sentiments, with 56.8% neutral sentiments.
While there were extreme comments, CARMA said that it largely did not have a deep impact on brand sentiment in Asia.
Adding to the statistics, media intelligence firm Truescope said that before the campaign commenced, Lululemon's brand received net positive sentiments (68.5%), primarily associated with specific products such as its everywhere belt bags, nylon tote bags, and women's winter jackets.
Conversely, there were mixed sentiments highlighting the controversy surrounding Lululemon's founder and his perspectives on diversity.
The launch of the Lunar New Year initiative, however, did have a more polarising impact on public perception. Truescope’s managing mirector, Kelvin Koh shared that engaging discussions have surged across digital platforms, with fans actively expressing their support through comments and heart GIFs, resonating with the campaign's inclusive and celebratory message.
However, a discernible portion of the conversations were more polarised, with netizens reflecting on past racial insensitivities associated with the brand, leading some to question Michelle Yeoh's decision to collaborate with the lululemon.
In comments that MARKETING-INTERACTIVE saw, a netizen called the film performative, saying that it does not erase the name of the company nor the recent anti-inclusion statements of the founder.
Another netizen questioned if the campaign was to compensate for the racist and anti-Asian comments made by the founder. Netizens also left comments reminding others of Wilson making fun of Japanese people.
Earlier this year, Wilson did an interview with Forbes where he noted his distaste for the way the brand is leaning into diversity and inclusion. Wilson added that the brand needs to be clear that it doesn't want certain customers coming in.
Wilson also made racists statements in a 2004 interview where he told National Post Business Magazine that the inability of Japanese people to pronounce the letter L served as a marketing tool for the company in the country.
Wilson had reportedly said that the letter L is tough to pronounce for Japanese people and thought a brand name with three Ls as would be funny hear them say. Other netizens questioned why Yeoh, a respected actress in the Asian community, was chosen for the campaign.
The backlash came after the brand released a short film titled 'Be Spring' featuring a 'Wing Chun' themed dance with Yeoh in the forefront as part of the campaign.
The short film was shot in the mountain settings of Jingning (景寧) and Xiandu (仙都), it presents a poetic enactment of the meeting of mind and body and explores the concept of well-being, aiming to invite viewers to find eternal spring in their everyday lives.
According to a release by lululemon, born in the East and raised in the West, Yeoh embodies the cultural confluence of East and West which is why she was chosen. Similarly, lululemon had wanted to explore wellbeing through the lens of eastern culture.
“At lululemon, we believe that everyone has the right to be well, and we are committed to the advocacy of wellbeing. This new year, we wanted to explore wellbeing through the lens of eastern culture – our essence, our energy and our spirit (精气神),” said Lynn Cheah, vice president of brand marketing and community at lululemon China.
“It is an honour and a pleasure to have both Yeoh and dancers from the theatrical dance ‘Wing Chun’ join us in realising this film. Through their movements, they truly demonstrate both the power of martial arts and the grace of dance.”
In the same release, Yeoh said that she was "delighted to be partnering with lululemon" and that she is "committed to encourage more people, especially younger generations to benefit from sports and find balance in their own lives."
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to lululemon for more information.
This isn't lululemon's first campaign featuring prominent Asian figures. In August 2023,the brand named four athletes as its Hong Kong ambassadors to promote social, physical and mental wellbeing.
The four ambassadors include professional rugby player Cado Lee, professional swimmer Camille Cheng, professional fencer Ryan Choi and Hong Kong’s top tennis player Eudice Chong.
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