Bulgari has come under fire for “humiliating China” as netizens turn their attention to subtle details of the brand’s mainland China website.
Netizens have been sharing a screenshot from Bulgari’s website that shows Taiwan listed as a separate county, rather than a region inside China. Under the Asia heading in the store locator Hong Kong and Macau are listed as “Macau, China” and “Hong Kong, China” respectively, whereas Taiwan is listed without China in its name.
Confirming this isn’t simply down to semantics, Taiwan and China are also labelled using the same font size on a map featured on the website – a clear visual indicator of Taiwan as a sovereign nation. High-profile brands typically adjust store maps for the mainland Chinese version of their websites. For example, brands can avoid a font size fiasco by only labelling cities on the island (e.g., Taipei in the same font size as Fuzhou), rather than labelling the nation as a whole.
Bulgari’s store locator fumble is just the latest incident to cross Xi Jinping’s “red line” and irk the Chinese public. In 2021, 30 Chinese celebrities cut ties with Nike and Adidas after the sportswear brands publicly disavowed the use of Xinjiang cotton, which some reports have linked to alleged forced labour in the region. The Chinese government maintains that policies in the far western province are designed to suppress terrorism arising from ethnic conflict.
Netizens debated which of Bulgari’s ten Chinese brand ambassadors would drop their association with the brand first, spawning its own trending topic on the microblog mecca Weibo. Celebrity endorsements are still a major marketing asset to luxury brands in China despite the risks of potential backlash from scandals, with Bulgari appointing actress Liu Yifei as global brand ambassador just a few months ago.
Bulgari responded via Weibo within hours of the furore confirming the brand “unwaveringly respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and that the mistake was due to “neglectful management”. The statement also thanked netizens for their “supervision” and said that the website store locator is in the process of being rectified to “ensure correct labelling”.
Within less than two hours, the response accumulated almost 200 million views and over 100,000 likes. Some commenters called for Bulgari not to be two-faced and release the same statement from a global platform. In light of the statement, stars may not feel the social pressure to cut ties with the brand, especially given the huge sums of money at stake if they do.