Luxury brands Coach, Givenchy and Versace recently got themselves in hot water after misreading China’s strict rules about the portrayal of its territories, and now new research has revealed the extent of the consumer backlash.

All three brands apologised profusely earlier this month after the Chinese authorities and consumers reacted badly to printed T-shirts that appeared to depict Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries.

The Versace T-shirts, which the Italian fashion house swiftly pulled, featured city and country pairs, such as Milan-Italy and London-UK, yet also included Hong Kong-Hong Kong and Macau-Macau.

Hong Kong and Macau, formerly British and Portuguese colonies, are officially known as special administrative regions of China, and – despite ongoing mass protests in Hong Kong over its status – China is sensitive to anything that suggests otherwise.

US luxury brand Coach and LVMH’s Givenchy also suffered a backlash after producing garments that depicted Taiwan as an independent country, even though China insists that the island is a breakaway province which eventually will unify with the mainland.

However, despite their apologies on Weibo and other Chinese social media platforms, all three brands have witnessed their positivity ratings tumble, according to a YouGov study seen by Mumbrella.

Since the controversy erupted, the YouGov research found that Versace’s positivity ranking has fallen to -11.6, down 23.2 points, while Givenchy’s ranking dropped from +27.2 to +4.0, and Coach’s fell 9.1 points to +0.2.

YouGov, which warned that “the damage has been done” also found that Chinese consumers are now less likely to recommend these brands or to have the same regard for them in terms of quality and value.

In addition – and this was not part of the YouGov research – all three companies saw the departure of their local brand ambassadors, including Versace’s Yang Mi, the popular actress whose studio has said on her behalf: “China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are sacred and inviolable at all times.”

Commenting on the findings and the lessons they hold for other international brands, Ervin Ha, head of data products at YouGov APAC, said: “Accounting for one-third of the world’s luxury good purchases, Chinese consumers are undoubtedly important clientele.

“Unfortunately, not one, but three big brands managed to make the same faux pas – offending people at a particularly sensitive time. Hopefully, it is a lesson that won’t repeat itself, as it is clear that even a timely apology is not enough to appease offended Chinese consumers.”

Sourced from Mumbrella, BBC; additional content by WARC staff