Balenciaga sparked outrage with their most recent ad campaign, featuring toddlers holding teddy bears wearing BDSM-like clothing. 

For the company’s holiday “Gift Collection,” National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti photographed young children in sexualized environments – basically glorifying pedophilia and child pornography. 

Blair White, 29-year-old Youtuber and political commentator, tweeted “If Balenciaga did something that offended the LGBT community, every celebrity would have cut ties instantly. They promoted child porn and nearly every celebrity is silent. Really makes you think, huh?”

Indeed, has Balenciaga’s controversial ad campaign received as much attention and outrage as it deserves?  

Gen Z-ers, an age group which is known for its political involvement and outspokenness, has been strangely absent from discourse surrounding Balenciaga’s despicable campaign. 

The Pavlovic Today talked to Gen Z-ers around the world to better understand why this generation feels so distant from the bondage editorial disaster. 

Where does Gen-Z stand with the Balenciaga Scandal? 

Mary Andrea Jimenez, 20-year-old International Relations student from Mexico, noted that “people our age know what is going on because they have heard about it on TikTok, but at least none of my friends have actually talked or discussed it.”

When asked why she believed Gen Z has not been as vocal about this issue in comparison to other controversies, Jimenez stated that “people our age think that it does not concern them in a certain way, they see it so far away because it is a huge brand that has a strong reputation and position. That is why I think in like three months everyone is going to forget about it.”

Luiza Seba, a 20-year-old Brazilian Business student, believes that Gen Z not being as outspoken about the Balenciaga scandal “makes sense” given how the brand is “really expensive and not very approachable” to young people.

“Everyone agrees that what Belanciaga did is wrong and absurd. But there is not much left to do. It is not like students around me were buying Balenciaga prior to the campaign,” noted Seba.  

Jam Press/Balenciaga

Chiara Quintela, a 20-year-old English student from Canada, maintains that Gen Z has not given the Balenciaga scandal as much attention as other problematic instances since Gen Z-ers “just became adults, and cannot comprehend what it means to have our own children nor have much of a ‘protective instinct.’”

“However, as young adults, we understand how the world is becoming more and more hypersexualized and seeing toddlers holding dolls dressed up in BDSM gear exemplifies that and it is truly terrifying,” added Quintela. 

Although I agree that Gen Z has not been as vocal about the Balenciaga campaign as one would expect, Gen Z-ers did not shy away from voicing their outrage towards the campaign photographs. 

Gen Z and host of the podcast Outdated, Isabel Brown tweeted: “Notice how not a single bank has dropped Balenciaga. Culture will cancel a canned food company for their CEO voting Red, but not a fashion brand promoting child pornography.”

Balenciaga’s Past and Future  

The disturbing and distasteful display of nonsensical marketing was taken down shortly after its release. 

“We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms,” stated Balenciaga on an Instagram post on November 24th. 

Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna, issued an apology on Instagram on Friday, the 2nd: “I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Balenciaga has made questionable – and almost illegal – marketing choices. 

User on TikTok marks allegedly demonic items in the ad. [Jam Press/Balenciaga]

The Balenciaga Spring 2023 ad campaign promoting the collaboration between the Spanish brand and Adidas featured an hourglass handbag placed on top of a pile of papers spread across an office desk.

It was later revealed that the over-priced handbag was positioned on top of the 2008 Supreme Court ruling, United States vs. Williams, which criminalized child pornography. 

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: Why is Balenciaga using child sexualization as a marketing prop? The answer remains unknown. 

It is almost as if the brand strategically planned the ads to defy and undermine the 2008 Supreme Court ruling. 

First, together with a mediocre-looking over expensive handbag, they showcase the papers which legitimize the criminalization of child pornography. Second, the company positions children in an environment with sexualized undertones, practically promoting child abuse.  

The brand announced that it would take legal action against the production company and set designer involved in the Spring 2023 shoot. 

According to the court documents filed by Balenciaga, the brand maintained that “inexplicable acts and omissions made without the company’s knowledge were malevolent or at the very least extraordinarily reckless” 

However, in Balenciaga’s latest Instagram post, the luxury fashion brand CEO Cédric Charbit announced that Balenciaga will drop the $25 million lawsuit against the producers of the unsettling ad campaign.

Charbit announced that the brand will adopt new control measures. “On the internal side, we nominate with immediate effect an image board responsible for evaluating the nature of our content from concept to final assets, including legal, sustainability and diversity expertise. On the external side, we have appointed a best-in-class agency to assess and evaluate our content,” read the Instagram post. 

It is rather difficult to believe the empty promises coming from the brand’s management. 

The handbag ad trivializing the 2008 Supreme Court Ruling should have been enough for the brand to impose more rigorous standards. So what is to say that this will be the beginning of a new and improved Balenciaga? 

Jimenez believes that in about a week or two, “this will all be forgotten.” 

Will the brand take advantage of today’s fast-paced news cycle and the public’s short-term memory to bounce back from the land of the canceled with no accountability, or will it actually commit to the promises set forth by the CEO? 

Regardless of the outcome, journalism cannot fail to dutifully report on Balenciaga’s marketing improvement or lack thereof. 

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