Western Brands’ Campaign Mistakes in China

As the second-largest consumer market globally and boasting an emerging middle class ready to spend, it is not surprising that a growing number of Western brands are setting their sights on China to expand globally. The appeal of tapping into this market is undeniable and promises significant growth opportunities for companies. However, the key to success lies in developing a tailored marketing strategy that resonates with Chinese consumers.
Establishing yourself in the Chinese market requires recognizing the specific characteristics of the Middle Kingdom and aligning your brand with its cultural norms. However, other major brands have made similar mistakes that have led to considerable damage, let’s discover the Western Brands’ Campaign Mistakes in China.

Taking cultural differences into account: Dolce & Gabbana

The luxury goods market presents a significant opportunity for many Western brands in China. Studies indicate that by 2025, Chinese consumers are expected to contribute 40% of global luxury goods spending. However, this burgeoning Chinese luxury market could pose challenges for Western brands if they fail to consider the cultural distinctions between East and West.

A notable example occurred in November 2018 when a digital ad campaign by Dolce & Gabbana received accusations of racism from Chinese internet users. This controversy led to D&G canceling their major runway show of the year. The campaign, posted on Weibo, featured a series of three 30-second ads depicting a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian dishes with chopsticks, seemingly making light of cultural contrasts. D&G, whose largest market is China, experienced a significant sales decline following the incident, with major e-commerce platforms Alibaba and removing D&G products from their online shelves.

Dolce & Gabbana Official Instagram Account, source: BBC

Slogan Translation: Pepsi

Pepsi-Cola, commonly known as “Pepsi,” made a significant blunder with its slogan. The translator hired by Pepsi took the slogan, “Pepsi brings you back to life”, quite literally when crafting advertisements for the product. After a few months, the company realized why this had upset many Chinese consumers. Pepsi-Cola later learned that the actual translation used in the advertisements was “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”, the company therefore had to change the slogan again.

Source: X

Cultural Insensitivity: Jo Malone

Jo Malone, a brand owned by Estee Lauder, faced a racism controversy when it adapted its original London Gent advertisement for release in China. The initial ad, a celebrated and deeply personal piece directed by British actor John Boyega, shared his childhood memories and experiences growing up. It received wide acclaim for its authenticity and inclusivity. However, when the brand attempted to launch a similar ad in China, it simply replaced Boyega with Liu Haoran, replicated the creative concept, and omitted all black actors from the new version. This decision sparked outrage and significant backlash, both in China and internationally, against the brand.

Source: Daily Mail

Misstep in rebranding: Mercedes Benz

In an effort to increase its presence in the Chinese market, Mercedes Benz renamed itself Bensi, believing that the concise name would resonate more with Chinese consumers. However, the literal translation of Bensi in Chinese turned out to be “race to the death”, as a result the company had to change the brand name to Benchi, which instead means “unbridled speed”.

Source: Wikipedia, Namzya

As brands strive to connect with diverse markets and embrace inclusivity, it is crucial that they prioritize authentic messaging. These western brands’ campaign mistakes in China are an example of how brands frequently encounter communication hurdles between their global and local teams in China. It is imperative for Western brands to acknowledge and understand these cultural differences before entering the market, proceeding cautiously especially when cultural elements are incorporated into advertising campaigns.

Long Advisory digital marketing agency in China

Long Advisory supports Western companies in China through digital marketing. In fact, our experience has led us to believe that today, the best and most convenient approach to making your brand well-known in China is through a digital approach. Furthermore, thanks to our know-how, we know how to make your brand known to potential Chinese consumers. With the effective coordination of Long Advisory, your company will see a new rise in the largest market in the world: China.

Long Advisory is a digital marketing agency specializing in developing digital marketing solutions tailored for the Chinese market. 

Interested in expanding your brand in China? Contact us for more info and details at


In recent years, the Chinese economy has experienced significant growth and development. Following the global crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, China made