Why Jo Malone’s “London Gent” Advertisement Backfired

What Happened: Jo Malone London, the Estée Lauder-owned perfume brand, has apologized about replacing Star Wars actor John Boyega, who conceived and directed the brand’s “London Gent” advertisement, with the actor Liu Haoran for the Chinese version of Boyega’s advertisement.

The original ad, which aired last year and won The Fragrance Foundation Awards 2020 for Best Media Campaign, features a host of Boyega’s memories, including time at a playground, walking around his South London neighborhood, riding a white horse, and enjoying time with friends and family. The cast was diverse and was said to include many people he knew in real life.

As some in the West took to social media to condemn the ad switch as racist, Jo Malone responded in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, saying it was a “mistake in the local execution,” and apologized to both Boyega and Liu. On September 14, Boyega announced on Twitter that he has stepped down as Jo Malone’s global ambassador.

Jing Take: If John Boyega’s successful Jo Malone campaign hinged on authenticity and diversity, the brand’s Chinese version exuded the exact opposite. As brands adopt localization strategies for the Chinese market, choosing a local ambassador is a common move. However, in this case, the brand fell short in its execution. By failing to consult with Boyega about replicating his idea, the brand offensively appropriated his story. Further, the goal with localization is to create an authentic narrative for the local market, whereas this campaign did the exact opposite. The direction was unfair to Liu, who certainly has his own memories and stories from his home province Hunan.

As brands aim to speak to multiple markets and embrace diversity, it is vital they keep authentic messaging at the forefront. In this case, the brand should have at minimum consulted Boyega for permission to use his concept. The backlash is a learning lesson for brands, who often face communication challenges between global and local China teams.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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