By now, international luxury brands are no strangers to encountering controversy when attempting to navigate the choppy waters of China’s unique market space — with everyone from Burberry to Dolce & Gabbana finding ways to offend certain sections of the country’s online populace. But a new Cartier advertisement is currently getting attention not for nationalistic reasons, but for its alleged erasure of identity.
In a series of videos and promotional images ahead of Qixi Festival — which is often referred to as Chinese Valentine’s Day and this year falls in late August — the French jeweler appears to present several gay couples, but instead the accompanying text refers to “father and son” and “friendship,” something which has not gone unnoticed on Chinese social media platforms.
On China’s biggest ecommerce platform Tmall, the promotion of a collection of “love bands” features a caption that reads, “Father and son are like brothers. They are going through the life journey together.” However, commenters have noted that the pair appear remarkably similar in age.
Imagery for two other products is accompanied by wording that emphasizes female friendship, though netizens have questioned whether the intended audience is actually lesbian couples. “Mutual understanding beyond words. Witnessing our unshaken friendship,” reads one. “Sharing similar tastes and interests. Enjoying their private happy moments,” reads another.
Cartier has also released related promotional videos on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, which feature several pairs holding hands, teaming up to go biking and sharing hugs. Users have responded with a range of comments, some of them bitter, sarcastic or simply confused.
One of the most upvoted comments under a related post reads, “Who wears a twin ring with a father?”
“Only call me daddy at night, baby,” jokes another user.
Meanwhile, some more serious comments question the reasoning behind such apparent mixed messaging. “Because it couldn’t pass through the review process, that’s why it changed to call it as father and son,” speculates one commenter. Another user casts doubt on the brand’s decision to launch this set of products in the Chinese market, “Hmmm… If it is not allowed, then don’t bother selling it in China… why alter the original message like this?”
Others have chosen to see the campaign in a more positive light. “Feels like it supports LGBTQ+ [communities]” argues one user.
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When RADII reached out to Cartier on Tmall for comment, one customer representative told us: “Love is very broad. Everybody has different interpretations for love.”
Regulation surrounding LGBTQ+ messaging in such adverts is opaque. Last year for Qixi Festival, Budweiser celebrated same-sex love by releasing a limited set of beers with the tagline of “All Love is Love” in the Chinese market; the campaign enjoyed broad success. In January, Tmall themselves seemingly experimented with same-sex inclusion in their advertising, apparently featuring a gay couple in a spot ahead of Spring Festival.
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