What brands can learn from GAP ‘s crisis in China

Boycott of GAP started to trend on Chinese social media network Weibo after the company was found selling a T-shirt with an incorrect map of China.

Chinese Marketing Strategies

On May 14th, a post on Chinese social media network Weibo by @Tangfener with pictures of a GAP T-shirt caused huge discussion as a Chinese map on the T-shirt was found “incorrect” with some Chinese-claimed territories, including south Tibet and the island of Taiwan being omitted. The user said the photo was taken at an outlet store in Canada and satirized the brand, saying that GAP would have big trouble if the T-shirt was released in Chinese market.

The crisis seemed to be get further out of control despite the T-shirt not being released in China.  The post with the GAP T-shirt spread quickly on Weibo and thousands of Chinese netizens posted their outrage.

Chinese PR

@Qiushanzhu “For all foreign brands who want to explore the Chinese market: Don’t be offensive to Chinese especially when it comes to political issues. Respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China or get out of the Chinese market.”

GAP reacted to this crisis quickly on the same day with a statement posted on its Weibo account.

GAP announment

“Gap Inc. respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We’ve learned that a Gap brand T-shirt sold in some overseas markets failed to reflect the correct map of China. We sincerely apologise for this unintentional error,

In addition, it added that the products had been pulled from the Chinese market and it would implement “rigorous reviews” to prevent it happening again.

However, Chinese consumers said they didn’t accept this apology as GAP didn’t solve the problem at all.

Weibo comment
Weibo comment
Weibo comment

@AiAiAiVicky “’We are sorry’, and that’s all.”

@Sunbin1990 “The T-shirts were sold oversees except China and now you tell me that you are going to withdraw the products from China???”

@Xiaomeizi_LU “How about the T-shirts being sold oversees?”

People’s Daily China news

Besides Chinese consumers complaints, People’s Daily, an official media outlet of China, released a statement on Twitter, indicating that the map on the T-shirt is incomplete and GAP needs to respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry

This issue has even caught the attention of the Chinese government.  In a press conference with The Chinese Foreign Ministry, a journalist asked for the government’s comment on the GAP scandal. The government said they had noticed this issue and they would respond to it according to the attitude and actions of the brand.

The boycott of GAP is still trending on Weibo. With pressures coming from both Chinese consumers and the Chinese government, GAP is struggling to survive in the Chinese market. So, what can other brands learn from this lesson?

First of all, brands need to be extremely cautious about political issues. Try to avoid any topics related to controversial political problems such as sovereignty and territorial integrity, government policies or the political system. Patriotism is at the core of Chinese national spirit and they will not accept a brand that they think has no respect for their country.

Secondly, if you have already made a mistake and upset your Chinese customers, apologise quickly and take measures to rectify the situation staright away. “Admitting mistakes and correcting them immediately” is highly appreciated in traditional Chinese culture.


Sources: The guardian, The Chinese Foreign Ministry