Luxury fashion brand Balenciaga has faced a tidal wave of criticism in China over  promotional pictures of products it has created for the Qixi festival, but some observers suggest people are too ready to find fault with western brands.

The pictures appear on the brand’s Tmall store. One depicts a young couple standing in front of a waterfall backdrop adorned with roses and hearts; he is handing her a red Hourglass handbag with graffiti-style Chinese characters that read ‘He Loves Me’ written on the flap.

Source: Balenciaga

The picture is clearly photoshopped and is done in a certain retro style which some people may appreciate but which a vocal section of China’s internet population clearly doesn’t. One hashtag (#BalenciagaChineseValentineCampaignTasteless) had over 210,000 discussions and 170 million views on Weibo, according to Jing Daily.

The Global Times also highlighted Weibo comments that accused the brand of just going through the motions and not considering the tastes of Chinese consumers.

Many thought the pictures ill-judged – “behind the times”, “ugly and tasteless”, “offensive” were some of the descriptions – and an online poll (by Toutiao News on Weibo) found 57% of the 13,000 respondents said that the pictures were “unacceptable” because they were “too tacky”, SupChina reported.

But it also noted that younger Chinese consumers may actually like that “tacky” look, citing one Weibo user who said of the picture: “It’s very Chinese and I like the vintage and retro vibes of it.”

Western brands have learned to tread carefully when it comes to references to territories claimed by China and to avoid any possible allegations of racism, but this critique of aesthetics is a new development.

The Global Times picked up on one Sina Weibo user’s contrasting of the quality of the Tmall pictures with a Balenciaga perfume ad in which US actress Kristen Stewart appears as a spokesperson as further evidence of the brand’s lack of sincerity.

Jing Daily takes a more balanced view, however, pointing out that the pictures were only posted on Tmall and aimed at a particular audience: the brand had, it suggested, looked for what Chinese Gen-Zers find cool and designed a unique font for the handbags.

“While it’s important for brands to do social listening and understand other brands’ cultural missteps, sometimes it’s better to ignore the noise,” Jing Daily concluded. “After all, a luxury brand wasn’t born to be led by public opinion – its job is to set trends.”

Sourced from Global Times, Jing Daily, SupChina; additional content by WARC staff