Thursday, 5 December 2013

Louis Vuitton’s lesson in sensitivity

In advertising, especially in fashion advertising, it is all about shaping the boundaries of creativity. It is all about trying to make your customers to say WOW.  In doing so, marketers and advertisers sometimes forget that there are specific sensitive areas, like the deep seeded feelings of a nation, that could turn any creative idea into a mess. In such instances, nobody can predict how promotional words, images, or even a selected media spot in an event can resonate with a particular cultures' people.

Let’s look at last week’s example when French luxury brand, Louis Vuitton (LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton), placed a gigantic suitcase on Moscow’s historic Red Square. Suddenly, the massive nine-meter tall, 34-meter long Louis Vuitton trunk just materialised there. Placed just few steps from Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum. Once the first images of this mega-suitcase, branded with LV monogram, hit viral status, people hardly believed it was for real.

Photo: Reuters

Not surprisingly, it has sparked huge backlash among many Russians. I have learned from Russian media and comments amongst friends on Facebook that different social and political groups were insulted by Louis Vuitton’s performance. Some patriots were mad due to a foreign brand blocking the view of admired sites, like Lenin's mausoleum and St. Basil's Cathedral. But nearly all Muscovites simply complained for aesthetic reasons. 

It was initially intended to be a beautiful and whimsical Louis Vuitton promotional initiative – including an exhibition called "The Soul of Travel," with all profits from tickets being donated to children’s charity. However, it has now become a synonym to bad taste. The enormous Louis Vuitton suitcase was put down before the exhibition was even released.

Obviously, this Louis Vuitton performance got the attention of the Russians, but the question is whether it was for good for the brand and it’s customers. Do wealthy Russians want to associate with a brand that clearly hurt the feelings of their nation? Lack of culture research has more than just one negative outcome. In Russia, cases have always been a symbol of corruption as well as those Russian governments who have occupied the Red Square. Louis Vuitton might have just made too many wrong intentions with its gigantic case placed too close to Russian governments.

I do like Louis Vuitton for their huge effort in trying to keep people surprised, as well as their constant support and promotion of contemporary art. I was just wondering, perhaps it would be more reasonable if they had simply located that gigantic suitcase to another space. They didn’t have to offend those Russians who regard Red Square as an iconic space of national history in hosting military ceremonies during World War II. If they had simply done their research, been a bit more culturally sensitive, this whole campaign would have made the news for different reasons.

Elena Sveshnikova
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School.

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