Wait, What? Balenciaga Is Suing the Producers of Its Own Ad Campaign?

Well the Doc opened up the old mailbag today and here’s what poured out.

Dear Dr. Ads,

There I was, minding my own business and reading Oliver Darcy’s CNN Reliable Sources newsletter, when I came across these items.

• Kim Kardashian is “re-evaluating” her relationship with Balenciaga amid backlash over the brand’s recent ad campaign that featured children with BDSM items. (NBC News)

Balenciaga, meanwhile, is suing the producers of the ad campaign. (NPR)

Really, Doc, they get to do that – approve an ad campaign and then sue over it? Sounds kind of addled to me.

– Trying to Keep Up

Dear Trying,

Actually, it happens more often than you might think. (See here for a bunch of examples.) One of the most famous cases was this Super Bowl ad that retail chain Just For Feet ran in 1999.

Back then one of the Doc’s good pals produced a piece about the spot for APM’s Marketplace. Here’s how his commentary began.

Retailers are the hypochondriacs of the business world – endlessly taking their temperature at the cash register, constantly checking for downdrafts in the market, and looking over their shoulder at last year’s sales figures so often, it’s a wonder they don’t have chiropractors on staff. As for adventurous advertising, retailers may not be allergic to it, but excess creativity does tend to give them the sniffles.

All the more remarkable, then, that Just For Feet’s Super Bowl ad ever saw the blue light of day. The spot shows a barefoot Kenyan runner being tracked by white paramilitaries in a Humvee. They pull up alongside him, slip a Mickey into a cup of water that he inexplicably accepts, and next thing you know the runner wakes up to find a pair of Nikes on his feet.

(RUNNER) Nooooooooooooo  (ANCR) Just for Feet. To protect and serve feet.

Apparently, protecting and serving clients was not a priority for the retailer’s ad agency, Saatchi and Saatchi Business Communications. The press alternately labeled the spot reprehensible and racist, and Just for Feet kept seeing itself in the same sentence as Texaco and Denny’s. So the retailer sued the agency for marketing malpractice, which immediately raises the question, CAN someone violate the standards of an industry that clearly has none?

At least that’s the response Saatchi & Saatchi has filed in court papers according to a story in the Internet magazine Salon. That should put the agency in solid with its other clients . . .

Meanwhile, Just For Feet’s stock is down 75% since last year. Thanks to Saatchi & Saatchi, the stock of the ad industry could be even lower.

Just For Feet eventually dropped its $10 million lawsuit against Saatchi & Saatchi, shortly before the chain filed for bankruptcy.

Back to the present, NBC Today show contributor Lindsay Lowe detailed the origins of the Kardashian/Balenciaga dustup.

Kim Kardashian says she is “re-evaluating” her relationship with Balenciaga in light of the brand’s recent ad campaign that featured images of young children posing with teddy bears that appeared to be wearing BDSM-inspired accessories.

 “I have been quiet for the past few days, not because I haven’t been disgusted and outraged by the recent Balenciaga campaigns, but because I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened,” Kardashian, 42, wrote in her Instagram story on Sunday.

 “As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” she continued. “The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society — period.”

A couple of the ad images, for those of you keeping score at home.

So what did Balenciaga do about the media critiques of its campaign? The fashion house turned around and sued the creative team that came up with the ads. Balenziaga’s lawsuit rolled in an additional campaign with a controversial image, as NPR’s Emily Olson related.

Balenciaga, the luxury fashion brand that sparked back-to-back controversies over two recent ad campaigns, has signaled its plans to sue the production company North Six for its role in creating one of the ads.

The backlash began when online scrutinizers noticed a page from the 2008 Supreme Court decision United States v. Williams in the backdrop for an ad showcasing a $3,000 purse.

The ruling upheld the constitutionality of a child pornography conviction.

The ad, which has since been removed from the company’s website, was part of the fashion house’s Spring 2023 collaboration with the activewear brand Adidas.

As in Adidas, the company that just dumped Kanye West, who was recently dumped by his ex-wife Kim Kardashian, nicely completing the Circle of Brandicide.

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s the ad for the $3000 purse.

For the life of us, we can’t locate the offending document anywhere in the photograph. Then again, the Doc’s not an optometrist, okay?

But Google Images found it.

Anyway, here’s the current state of play as reported by Nick Kostov and Stacy Meichtry  in the Wall Street Journal.

Balenciaga filed a lawsuit in New York state against Nicholas Des Jardins, a set designer who worked on that ad campaign, and North Six, a production company involved in the photo shoot. In the lawsuit, Balenciaga alleges Mr. Des Jardins and North Six were responsible for including the excerpt of the court decision in the ad campaign.

“In no way was any controversial material intentionally placed by me or anyone on my team,” Mr. Des Jardins wrote in an email to The Wall Street Journal. “There were literally tens of thousands of papers on-set rented from a prop house,” he said.

North Six declined to comment.

Kim Kardashian has remained mum about the second ad donnybrook, while Balenciaga has deep-sixed both ad campaigns, saying they “reflect a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility.”

And for which Balenciaga should take a serious financial hit.

But that’s just our diagnosis.

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