After Coach and Versace’s China blunders – how brands can avoid offending
Any China reporter or exchange student would have known not to make this mistake. In July, Versace, Coach and Givenchy released remarkably similar – and flawed – T-shirts, with designs variously implying Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were not part of China. A year earlier, China’s central government had warned international airlines against the same mistake. To add to the injury, the garments went on sale at a time when rioters in Hong Kong were calling for “liberation”.
Retribution was swift. Millions of mainland bloggers quickly attacked the luxury trio. The Chinese celebrity ambassadors of all three brands cancelled their contracts. In an online poll, 70 per cent of respondents said that if brands “insulted China” they would “never buy their products, even if I have nothing to wear”.
Like safety engineers sifting through a crash site, industry analysts are now trying to discover what went wrong. But more important is future prevention. The mishaps, everyone agrees, should mark a turning point in the way luxury brands do business in China, although there are divisions on exactly how.
“Luxury brands tend to operate with a centralised marketing strategy to ensure global consistency,” says Athena Chen, of consultants WGSN. “It’s not easy to ensure everyone within the pipeline across countries is aware of sensitivities.”