David Thomas is an expert on doing business in China. With a successful history of forging global business relationships, David helps leaders, entrepreneurs and investors solve the China puzzle. As part of that, he’s launched a daily email newsletter ‘China Bites’ which you can read here on Targeting China.

I suppose it’s of some consolation to the rest of us to know that even an iconic brand like Burberry, with all of its money, resources, people and recent successes available to them, can still make classic blunders when it comes to reading and adapting to local Chinese culture at a sensitive time like Chinese New Year.

From a casual observer’s perspective, they did everything right. They came up with a “Burberry Modern New Year” theme, hired some famous local actors, an American photographer, and assembled a group of Asian models to showcase some typical family relationships — “kinship,” “brotherhood” and “generations.” They also launched a new red Burberry handbag to welcome in the New Year and a link to their own WeChat store to make it easy for online customers to place direct orders. What followed would have been the worst nightmare for their marketing department as they looked forward to their Spring Festival holiday.

The reaction to what was described on social media as “creepy” family portraits and scenes from horror movies went viral, with over 40,000 views in the first 24 hours and a severe backlash on social media. Burberry immediately reacted by pulling down the WeChat advert and replacing it with alternative images which saved the day! You can see the “before and after” images here

According to Jing Daily “Burberry’s business exposure to China and Chinese nationals have reached historical highs….Chinese nationals contributed to around 40% of sales to Burberry, while 29% of sales were generated in the Greater China region”.

It may be too early to say for sure, but the fast reaction of Burberry’s marketing team may have saved them all their jobs, at least for another year!

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