Dec 1, 2022 - Economy

Balenciaga's communications blunder

Readership of stories mentioning Balenciaga's ad controversy
Data: Memo; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Luxury fashion designer Balenciaga is under fire for inappropriate ad campaigns featuring children.

Why it matters: The brand's disturbing editorial decisions paired with its messy, delayed and inadequate response could cause long-term damage to its reputation.

Catch up quick: In mid-November, Balenciaga released two unsettling ad campaigns — a holiday ad with children holding teddy bear-shaped purses covered in bondage, and a spring collection ad that was staged in an office space and featured a document pertaining to child pornography laws.

  • These ads sparked outrage across social media and cable news, with many tying the brand to the exploitation of children.

Meanwhile, Balenciaga and many of its ambassadors stayed quiet, which only raised more questions and gave way to more conspiracy theories.

State of play: Balenciaga removed the bear bondage ad on Nov. 23 and apologized "for any offense" it might've caused.

  • Hours later, the brand issued another statement apologizing for "displaying unsettling documents" in the spring campaign, according to The New York Times.
  • The fashion house then filed a $25 million lawsuit against the production company and set designer, claiming "that the documents were placed in the campaign photographs without their knowledge," the Times reports.
  • On Nov. 28, Balenciaga released a final statement taking responsibility for the "grievous errors" and "lack of oversight," and mapped out steps to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Quick take: The data shows where the response went wrong, and Thanksgiving could've worked in Balenciaga's favor.

  • Had its initial Nov. 23 response included an explanation, accountability and next steps, the issue likely would've fizzled in the holiday news cycle.
  • But multiple tone-deaf apologies and finger-pointing only fanned the flames.
  • Twelve days and one Kim Kardashian statement later, Balenciaga took substantive action and issued a clear response.

Be smart: The folks at Balenciaga could've referred back to our Adidas coverage to see the impact of a slow, botched response.

The bottom line: "All a brand has is its reputation. Balenciaga was quick to strike the ads but slow to accept full responsibility," SKDK managing director Rae Robinson told Axios. "They must undertake a comprehensive, internal review of every person involved in creating and approving both ad campaigns."

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