Zara’s Marketing Nightmare and the Power of the Boycott

LUXUO examines the power of consumers and their wallets as brands continue to struggle with their marketing strategies in the aftermath of the Israel and Hamas crisis.

Dec 12, 2023 | By Sanjeeva Suresh

Zara has faced a barrage of backlash after the release of their “Collection 04_The Jacket” campaign, fronted by model Kristen McMenamy. Many on social media platforms Instagram and “X” were quick to call out the similarities of the campaign’s visuals to the scenes coming out from the frontlines in Gaza.

The Visuals

Image courtesy of Zara

The campaign features statues with missing limbs and mannequins wrapped in white sheets surrounded by rubble. McMenamy models the clothes amidst white debris, rubble and most strikingly, mannequins that are wrapped completely in white shrouds similar to those being used to wrap dead bodies in Gaza. The white debris reminded some of white phosphorus used by Israel on Gaza alongside the hole in the wall which many said were a subliminal message referring to the map of Palestine. Some online users and activists said that the images were dehumanising the plight of the Palestinians, making light of the conflict while others said it had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict but was instead the choice creative direction with one user stating “….this is the work of Tim Walker. A renowned photographer who’s work is filled with the ideas of ruin, work in progress, rubble and structure. This could be chalked up to bad timing but those who see it are reaching but these comparisons are eerie for the time its in”.

Image courtesy of Zara

In response, Inditex, the company that owns Zara, did not directly comment on the boycott calls, but said the “Atelier” collection was conceived in July and the photos were taken in September prior to the recent conflict which began on 7 October, stating they were “inspired by men’s tailoring from past centuries”. However, it is worth noting that from fashion perspective, the main goal of a marketing campaign is usually to both sell “the fantasy” and the clothing. However, in this instance, the campaign’s narrative failed to deliver a cohesive link between the clothing and the background. Furthermore, if most of the publicity garnered is from the background set design and not on the clothes that Zara is trying to sell, one could argue they failed on a sartorial perspective. Furthermore, in a number of the images, the “wrapped mannequins” and rubble are in the forefront of the image, with the model is in the background.

Image courtesy of Zara

The Backlash

Calls for a boycott were swift with media intelligence firm CARMA stating that the retailer saw brand sentiments plummet to 76.4 percent negative and only 4.2 percent positive after the advertisement was released. Prior to the incident, it had 31.6 percent positive sentiments and 13.6 percent negative sentiments.

For a bit of context, Zara now joins a growing list of brands that have already come under scrutiny in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas which includes McDonalds, Starbucks and Marks and Spencer’s (M&S). Reuters reports that Zara’s Instagram account saw tens of thousands of comments posted under the photos, many with Palestinian flags, while “#BoycottZara” was trending on messaging platform X. To date, the Economic Times has reported that Starbucks has lost approximately USD 11 Billion due to poor sales, resulting in the erasure of 9.4 percent of the company’s total value. Starbucks stocks declined for 12 consecutive stock market sessions, the longest-ever recorded streak since the company went public in 1992.

As for Zara, while the images have been removed from their website, as of writing part of the campaign is still published on their Instagram. The reaction is only a reflection of the heightened sensitivity international brands are facing as the bombardment on Gaza intensifies.

Perception is Reality

What these large corporations sometimes fail to understand is the true power of the people and their wallets. Take for instance, what is happening in the United Nations. People feel frustrated at the constant veto-ing of the US on Gaza’s call for a humanitarian ceasefire. Many feel helpless as political figures either turn a blind eye or ignore the ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza and the West Bank and so they turn to what they can control – where they put their money. Zara is no stranger to being embroiled in a PR nightmare. Their manufacturing ethics have long been called into question however to a certain extent, this generally did not affect Zara’s profits. However, this may change moving forward if Starbucks’ statistics are anything to go by.

Perception is not always a coincidence as Vanessa Perliman, head designer at Zara in 2021 stated “Maybe if your people were educated, then they wouldn’t blow up hospitals and schools that Israel helped to pay for in Gaza,” in reference to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. Then you have Joseph Edward Sieff or “Teddy Sieff” who was chairman of retailer Marks & Spencer and honorary vice-president of the British Zionist Federation. Sieff worked at M&S for much of his career, as did his brother Israel Sieff showcasing that UK-based firm has been linked inextricably to Zionism long before the British retailer shared a picture from its Christmas clothing and home advertisement on Instagram showing burning red, silver and green paper hats which resembled the Palestinian flag. McDonald’s on the other hand, received backlash after McDonald’s Israel announced on social media that it had handed out thousands of free meals to the Israeli military amid its war with Hamas.

It is therefore not exactly fair to say brands are not complicit in their involvement in international warfare. Companies have to naviagte maintaining their brand reputation amid devisive global issues.

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