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    Bulgari’s Taiwan mishap a timely reminder for luxury brands

    Bulgari is taking the heat in China for appearing to list Taiwan as an independent country on its website. What are the lessons for luxury?
    Bulgari is taking the heat in China for appearing to list Taiwan as an independent country on its website. What are the lessons for luxury? Photo: Bulgari
      Published   in Profile

    What happened

    Italian luxury brand Bulgari has landed in hot water for appearing to list Taiwan as independent from China on an overseas website.

    On Tuesday, July 11, netizens discovered that a page about Bulgari’s store locations had added the word “China” before Hong Kong and Macau, but not before Taiwan.

    This prompted them to suspect the LVMH-owned brand of classifying Taiwan as an independent country, with the related hashtag on Weibo, which translates to “Bulgari's official website suspected of listing Taiwan as a country” (#宝格丽官网疑将台湾列为国家), attracting over 830 million views as of writing.

    Bulgari has since issued an apology on the platform, stating that the incident was caused by a lack of oversight. “Bulgari’s position of respecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remains firm as always,” it said.

    The company added that it had corrected the mistake and is now cooperating with third-party service providers to ensure that countries and regions on its international websites are correctly listed.

    The Jing Take

    Although Bulgari responded promptly to the controversy, consumers are far from satisfied. Commenting on the official apology post, several Weibo users complained that the jeweler had yet to publicize its message on global platforms. People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, also questioned whether the apology was tailored just for the mainland and criticized its brevity.

    The scandal comes at an unfortunate time. Just a day before, Bulgari had released in-game jewelry skins with one of the country’s biggest video games, Honor of Kings, marking its first in-game digital collaboration. This was celebrated by a launch event at Shanghai’s Bulgari Hotel on Monday, with pro-gamers and celebrities in attendance.

    Bulgari launched its first in-game jewelry skins with Honor of Kings on July 11. Photo: Bulgari
    Bulgari launched its first in-game jewelry skins with Honor of Kings on July 11. Photo: Bulgari

    Besides calling for boycotts of the character skins, netizens have also compiled a list of Bulgari’s brand ambassadors in China, pressuring them to sever ties with the house. These include actresses Shu Qi and Liu Yifei, who are both global brand ambassadors, as well as spokespeople Zhao Lusi, Fan Chengcheng, and Leo Wu, among others.

    “Whoever can take the lead in terminating their contract, I will be a fan for the rest of my life!” wrote Weibo blogger Baju Yuge (扒剧娱哥). So far, no artist has spoken out.

    This is not the first scandal of this nature. In 2019, fellow luxury businesses Versace, Coach, and Givenchy faced consumer boycotts for seeming to undermine China’s “One China” policy. As a result, all three lost endorsements with some of the country’s biggest celebrities, including Jackson Yee (Givenchy) and supermodel Liu Wen (Coach).

    Coach's faux tour shirt ignited controversy for listing Hong Kong and Taipei separately from China. Photo: Coach
    Coach's faux tour shirt ignited controversy for listing Hong Kong and Taipei separately from China. Photo: Coach

    However, they also all managed to recover in China, which should give Bulgari a glimmer of hope. But the brand will need to be proactive about regaining consumer trust. Here, it may do well to follow in Coach’s footsteps.

    First, after issuing its apology, the American handbag maker went silent on social media for two months. Then, when Covid-19 first hit, it was quick to make a sizable donation of 1 million RMB (139,440) to Wuhan, helping to turn public opinion in its favor. The brand later replaced the big-name ambassadors it lost with several niche influencers in an effort to stay low-key yet active online as consumers moved on from the scandal.

    Although the initial backlash against Coach was widespread, sales were minimally impacted that fiscal year. In other words, scandals are not the end of the road. That said, rather than sit back and wait for the fire to die down, brands should reflect and recalibrate their communication strategies in order to avoid making grave mistakes like this in the first place.

    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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