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Chanel's Advent Beauty Calendar Receives Global Backlash

December 08, 2021 Kelly Kovack
December 08, 2021
Chanel

What could possibly go wrong with a holiday gift set? Chanel released its first-ever Advent calendar this year to celebrate the 100th birthday of Chanel No. 5, and it has gone viral—for all the wrong reasons. The calendar is priced at $825, certainly not the most expensive in the scheme of luxury Advent calendars, but the brand missed the mark. Historically, these types of gift sets are costly, offering an oversized value (this is not a less-is-more moment) through a mix of deluxe samples, full-size products, or limited editions, and they often sell out fast.

A little late to the Advent calendar game that emerged a decade ago this holiday season, the French luxury fashion house jumped into the game with a calendar in the shape of the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle.

According to the Chanel website, the brand described the calendar and its contents as "a calendar unlike any other, inspired by the signature silhouette of the N°5 perfume bottle. This collector's item is comprised of 27 boxes numbered from 5 to 31, each of which contains a full-sized fragrance or makeup product, a miniature or another surprise marked with Gabrielle Chanel's lucky number. A piece to treasure for years to come."

What could have been a covetable moment of Chanel product history turned into an ugly slow-rolling viral moment. The brand has been lambasted around the globe on social platforms from Weibo and TikTok to YouTube and Instagram, hitting a crescendo this week as traditional publications like the The New York Times started covering the controversy.

October: The backlash began on YouTube shortly after the Advent calendar launch when the YouTuber behind the channel, A Heated Mess, described the calendar as the "most frustrating, overpriced $825 sticker book." The video has received 332,786 views to date.

November: The controversy continued in China after a blogger made a video reviewing Chanel's holiday offering on Weibo. Netizens called out Chanel for fraud, claiming the actual value of the box was estimated to be around 2,500 yuan ($391). The hashtag #Chanel blindbox has reached over 46 million views, with the blogger's video amassing 7 million views.

@eliseharmon

I’ll lay everything out and show you all of the contents and you can tell me if you think it’s worth it #chaneladventcalendar

♬ Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee

December: It was TikToker @eliseharmon unboxing over a series of posts taking viewers along as she opens Chanel boxes that leave viewers disappointed, with one comment calling it the "Fyre fest of advent calendars”. As of December 6, the series has been viewed more than 50 million times. She wrote in a separate post, showing her in low spirits while holding the box: "When you try to get festive by buying an advent calendar but are left with shattered hopes and dreams." While she gives the calendar a 10/10 review on the packaging, she also alleged that Chanel had “blocked” her, which appears to be untrue.

The claim of being blocked drove her audience to Chanel's Instagram account, which has more than 47 million followers and has been posting about the Métiers d'Art show to be held in Paris on December 7. Under each post about the work of the various specialty ateliers Chanel now sponsors are hundreds of comments: "Don't ignore the inevitable! We want some answers!" And, "Is the film funded by the advent calendar sales?"

Over the weekend, @eliseharmon's video got picked up by Diet Prada, with its 2.9 million Instagram followers. They added fuel to the fire, claiming some of the items in the calendar appeared to have been past "gift with purchase" freebies and can be found on eBay.

Chanel said @eliseharmon’s claim that the brand blocked her on TikTok was "absolutely inaccurate," as the brand is not active on TikTok. Speaking of Chanel’s TikTok page, "It has never been activated, no content has ever been published, it has no subscriber and no subscription. The page therefore appears empty to anyone who visits it," an official spokesperson told The Guardian. "When Ms. Harmon visited our page, she naturally found the usual message that she could not access this account, just like anyone else on the network," it added.

Diet Prada added fuel to the fire over the weekend, claiming to its 2.9 million followers that some of the items were previous "gift with purchase" merchandise that can be found on eBay.

The Response: "We are sorry that this calendar may have disappointed some people," Chanel said, per The Guardian. "The exclusive content of the calendar has always been fully detailed on our website chanel.com as well as on the packaging of the product.”

Bruno Pavlovsky, President of Fashion and Chanel SAS, told WWD, "This controversy is a bit of a shame because it was not what Chanel intended. Chanel thought it would please some of its customers by offering this type of product. Evidently, we see that you have to be careful and therefore, in future, we will certainly be much more cautious."

"Certainly, next time, we will think of another way to do this type of thing. I think that certain categories of products may be more suitable, in particular beauty—that could be a great idea. In any case, the objective is to promote our products and not to trigger any controversy, and even less to create frustrations or to send the wrong signals," he said.

In Chanel's defense, the brand was completely transparent about the products included, with photography of the Advent calendar clearing featuring the contents. Was it worth the $825 price tag? Ultimately, that is up to interpretation.

The brand doubled down on the value, saying the set was "Directly inspired by the mythical silhouette of the No.5 bottle, this calendar, only available for a short period, has a unique design and an original content, which makes it a true collector's item whose value cannot be summed up by the products it contains alone."

The Learnings: The business of gift sets is always tricky, and the best offerings deliver oversized value relative to the retail price operating on slim margins. For Chanel, the formula simply didn't seem to add up; but will it turn customers away from the iconic fashion house? Doubtful.

While the brand will certainly learn from this misstep, it’s worth noting the calendar sold out this year and is now on the secondary market priced from $1,000 to as high as $2,250, reinforcing the maxim that value ultimately comes down to whatever the market will bear.

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