Balenciaga’s Bad Trip Down the Canceled Lane

Back at it again with KaMIST! Your weekly dose of insights into the latest marketing trends. In this week’s KaMIST we’ll dive into a luxury brand that recently caused a controversy due to its ad campaign. 

Well-known for revolutionizing women’s fashion with never-before-seen shapes in the mid 20th century, who doesn’t know the famous high-end fashion brand Balenciaga?

Balenciaga has been in hot water since the second week of November 2022 for its holiday ad campaign. It has been receiving criticism from the public and then the brand itself filing a lawsuit against the production company behind the making of the ad campaign. So, how did all of these begin? 

The fallout began on November 16 when Balenciaga published a campaign called Balenciaga Gift Shop which included pictures of children holding bags that appeared to be bondage gear, leather pieces and padlocks. Five days later, a second campaign – Balenciaga’s 2023 Spring campaign with Adidas – launched featuring photos of a collaboration purse placed in an office environment, on top of a desk of legal papers. Eagle-eyed critics highlighted that one of the documents under the Balenciaga x Adidas Hourglass handbag was a printed copy of the Supreme Court’s 2008 U.S v Williams which was a case that examined if child pornography promotions was protected by free speech. 

Even though Balenciaga has taken down the images, several people have taken screenshots and re-uploaded them on social media such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok referring the photographs as child abuse and pedophilia agenda as well as demanding cancellation of the brand. On TikTok alone, the hashtag #CancelBalenciaga has over 105k views with most of them attributed to content creators explaining why the holiday campaign was so deplorable. 

On Instagram, Balenciaga stated “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set including unapproved items for our spring 2023 campaign photoshoot. We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children’s safety and well-being”. Their statements certainly triggered the public’s opinion as well as the luxury marketing expert, Pam Danziger. Quoted from The Post, Danziger said “I don’t see how they defend themselves, quite honestly. I think this will have a very strong impact on the brand ultimately”. 

From this case, we can learn that the controversial photoshoot that Balenciaga did for their ad campaign is an example of bad advertising. As a matter of course, bad advertising leads to several consequences that a brand should face. While the outcomes associated with good advertising are obvious, which are increasing sales, better engagement, higher levels of online traffic, the consequences of bad advertising are frequently overlooked, one of them is damaging customers’ trust and brand association. When the brand association is negative, this may lead to bad publicity and bad interaction between customers and the company. 

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