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How Zara's apology for its controversial campaign 'gaslit' consumers

How Zara's apology for its controversial campaign 'gaslit' consumers

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Fashion retailer Zara has issued a statement and removed all images from its controversial campaign that had striking resemblances to scenes coming out of the ongoing war between Gaza and Israel after days of significant public outcry. 

In its statement, which was posted on its Instagram page, Zara said that it was responding after listening to comments regarding the campaign. 

"The campaign, that was conceived in July and photographed in September, presents a series of unfinished sculptures in a sculptor’s studio and was created with the sole purpose of showcasing craft made garments in an artistic context," it said, adding:

Unfortunately, some customers felt offended by these images, which have now been removed, and saw in them something far from what was intended when they were created.

Zara went on to say that it "regrets" the "misunderstanding" and that it would like to reaffirm its "deep respect" towards everyone. 

Don't miss: Zara doubles down on ad resembling Gaza victims: Could this end the brand?

The apology was received poorly by netizens, many of whom noted that the statement was not actually an apology and who refuted the argument that the campaign was created months in advance as they knew of the current climate and situation before posting. 

According to Syed Mohammed Idid, general manager, strategic communications and stakeholder engagement at West Coast Expressway, there were many reasons why the statement caused upset publicly. For one, he said, it was dismissive of the criticism against it.

"The statement starts by framing the criticism as simply 'comments' and focuses on 'some customers' being offended, downplaying the widespread outrage and minimising the impact. This gives the impression that they are not taking the issue seriously," he said. 

He went on to say that the apology also focuses on "misunderstandings" and "regrets," suggesting they didn't intend to offend but simply failed to communicate effectively.

"This doesn't address the core issue of the imagery itself being insensitive and disrespectful," he said. 

Idid added that it was also an unconvincing explanation with the argument that the timing of the conception and photography being presented as if to distance themselves from current events in Gaza. He said:

However, the imagery's resemblance to war and destruction remains undeniable.

Additionally, Idid pointed out that there was a clear focus on marketing rather than empathy in its statement. 

"The statement emphasises the artistic context and showcases 'craftmade garments', making the campaign seem more about aesthetics than acknowledging the sensitive subject matter. This feels tone-deaf and prioritises brand image over genuine remorse," he explained. 

Finally, the statement lacks concrete action, something that many netizens also brought up in their comments on the statement online. 

"The statement only mentions removing the campaign, offering nothing in terms of reparations, education, or solidarity with the Palestinian people. This makes their commitment to 'deep respect' appear hollow," said Idid, adding:

The tone is formal and corporate, lacking any genuine remorse or emotional connection. It focuses on protecting the brand image rather than addressing the pain and suffering caused by the campaign.

Has the boat sailed?

Now that Zara has dug its heels into siding with its campaign, it looks like the boat has sailed on any form of recovery, according to Charu Srivastava, chief strategy officer and corporate affairs lead at TriOn &Co.

"The apology is not sincere. It is not even an apology if you read the words properly. Not once does Zara say sorry or apologise. In fact, they double down on their defense before saying that they 'regret the misunderstanding', and in essence, put the blame on some customers who felt offended," she said.

To me, Zara is just trying to gaslight consumers by blaming them for being too sensitive.

She added that one look at the comments on the statement post on Zara's Instagram page clearly show consumer sentiment. 

"While it is a complex conversation, the least Zara had to do was to give a genuine apology and, most importantly, acknowledge the hurt their images caused. But they didn't do that," she said. 

Agreeing with her, Asiya Bakht, the founder of Beets Public Relations, noted that while Zara’s apology is a step in the right direction, it also appears to be neutral, bland and safe.

"The Atelier ad campaign touched upon an emotive issue and more care could have been taken to craft the statement. Going by the sentiments on social media it has placated only a small section of consumers but that is probably what Zara was going for," she said. 

Related articles:
Zara's brand sentiments plummet after controversial ad resembling Gaza victims
Marks & Spencer's brand sentiments plummet after offensive Christmas ad
Beyond The Vines apologises after being labelled 'tone-deaf' for Israel-Hamas war remarks

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