Tiffany & Co has removed an ad from its social media accounts after it drew parallels with the ‘eye for an eye’ gesture used by Hong Kong protesters.
The ad featured Chinese model Sun Feifei wearing a Tiffany ring on her right hand while covering her eye. Internet users in China were quick to compare the pose with the one which has become synonymous with Hong Kong protesters, claiming it was a display of allegiance from the luxury brand.
The eye-covering gesture became adopted in the pro-democracy movement after a young woman suffered a serious eye injury during violent clashes between protesters and police in August.
Chinese consumers expressed their discontent towards the brand on Weibo, with one user saying: "Whoever buys their products is blind."
The luxury jeweller deleted the post on Tuesday (8 October) and said in a statement it "in no way intended to be a political statement of any kind".
"We regret that it may be perceived as such, and in turn have removed the image from our digital and social media channels and will discontinue its use effective immediately,” a Tiffany spokesperson told Campaign. The spokesperson added that the ad was created in May — before the protests erupted.
Separately, the protests have also impacted Tiffany’s bottom line due to the business disruption caused by several store closures.
Tiffany chief executive Alessandro Bogliolo said during the company’s Q2 earnings in August that in the quarter the business lost nearly six full selling days due to unplanned store closures.
“Obviously, we hope for a quick and peaceful resolution to the unrest being experienced there, but in the meantime, we must acknowledge that the current situation is taking a toll on our business,” Bogliolo said.
Hong Kong is the brand’s fourth-largest market by sales, after the US, Japan and mainland China. The city accounts for up to 10% of the estimated US$285 billion annual global market for luxury goods.
As Hong Kong has proved troublesome, China is proving a bright spot in Tiffany’s sales. While sales in the Americas and Europe declined 4% during the company’s second quarter, and Asia-Pacific overall experienced a 1% sales decrease, it experienced “double digit” growth in mainland China.
Accordingly the brand is doubling down in China, with plans to send more of its priciest jewellery and open more stores in the mainland. It opened its largest-ever product exhibition in Shanghai in September, and plans to make its Shanghai flagship store its most important outlet worldwide after its iconic New York City location.
Tiffany is the third brand in a week to become swept up in the escalating protests in Hong Kong. On Saturday (5 October) Vans removed a shoe design by a Canada-based artist that supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement from its annual Custom Culture shoe contest. Meanwhile the NBA has lost several Chinese partners after the general manager of the Houston Rockets voiced support for Hong Kong protesters in a tweet over the weekend.