British luxury label Burberry's first campaign of the year has already landed them in hot water. In what was meant to be a depiction of "togetherness", which is highly prized in Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, the campaign introducing the brand's latest collection roused division instead for being rather eerie.
The Chinese New Year campaign fronted by Chinese actresses Zhao Wei and Zhou Dongyu and directed by American photographer Ethan James Green was unveiled last week. It also includes a family portrait featuring eight stony-faced models across different generations.
A celebration of modern tradition, togetherness and #BurberryChineseNewYear— Burberry (@Burberry) January 3, 2019
#ZhaoWei wears a sleeveless keyhole-detail top with gold-plated link drop earrings. #ZhouDongyu wears a Vintage check wool jacket with palladium-plated link drop earrings
Introducing our new collection, curated for #BurberryChineseNewYear— Burberry (@Burberry) January 3, 2019
A portrait of togetherness, gathering the cross generations of family for a seasonal celebration. Starring #ZhaoWei and #ZhouDongyu; directed and photographed by @EthJGreen
Chinese news outlet Jing Daily has described the campaign as "creepy", also critiquing Burberry's culturally insensitive approach to Chinese culture, highlighting how for some, #BurberryChineseNewYear is "is just another bad taste, tone-deaf instance of Western luxury brands completely missing the point in China."
Chinese consumers likened the campaign images to horror movie themes, even quipping that this looks like an unhappy family ready to fight over their grandma's inheritance.
Did someone die over Christmas?— kenji (@kenjifukuda999) January 7, 2019
No offense but this picture reminds me of a typical Asian horror movie’s front cover. Maybe spend some time to understand your target market. I would feel odd to see this style of picture in a Christmas ad.— QTQ (@LLiangQ) January 9, 2019
Apparently no one in the pic knows each other and definitely not togetherness or any New Year celebration— Charlie (@zhupengxiong) January 9, 2019
not appropriate for CNY— clairowong (@clairowong) January 7, 2019
This is yet another example of how brands continue to misunderstand their target markets, especially with regards to Chinese culture. As Jing Daily notes, "brands’ lack of appreciation of authentic Chinese culture has in recent years caused trouble in their promotion of Chinese New Year products."
It was only this past November when Dolce & Gabbana's "The Great Show" was cancelled by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Shanghai for the brand's controversial chopstick eating video series, which perpetuated racial stereotypes.
This is why members of the Chinese cyber community have opined that fashion brands need to ease up on their eagerness to break into the Chinese market. While these may not be cases of cultural appropriation, they are another form of cultural offense based on surface-level research and gimmicks.
The sooner brands employ a new marketing tool besides the current "spark outrage for attention" route, the better.
Burberry has not responded to any of the backlash and their CNY campaign remains live online and on Twitter, but does not yet appear on Instagram.
Sign up to W24's newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.