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"Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart” How Luxury Brands Manage Failures and PR Controversies

Updated: Feb 6

Anastasia Chirkova  is the author of the article titled : How Luxury Brands Manage Failure and PR controversies

Publication date: 14.08.2023

In the bustling kitchen of Osteria Francescana, Italy's renowned three-Michelin-starred restaurant, a chef accidentally dropped a lemon tart. Instead of lamenting the mishap, head chef Massimo Bottura saw art in the chaos. The dessert was reborn and named "Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart” which is now well-recognized around the world.

lemon tart

In the realm of luxury, where perfection is the gold standard, the “oops” can happen. What truly distinguishes a brand is its ability to respond, recover and reposition after failures. Some brands managed to make those failures a beginning of a new page. In a similar way as “lemon tart” became an unexpected masterpiece symbolized beauty in imperfection.

Let's take a closer look at some of the luxury world’s notable "lemon tart" moments and how these brands recover their reputation and manage controversies.

1. Managing PR controversy in Burberry

During 2019 London Fashion Week, Burberry's unveiling of a hoodie featuring a noose-like drawstring set off a tidal wave of criticism. The design in fact was inspired by the nautical theme.

Immediate Admission

CEO Marco Gobbetti swiftly stepped in, expressing remorse. Then he assured customers and stakeholders that such oversight was unintentional and inexcusable. To make up for it, they released an Instagram apology and official statement Burberry’s transparency was admirable and much appreciated.

Burberry  is a  luxury brand that managed controversies

Constructive Follow-up

Post the incident, Burberry went further from apologies to actions. They rolled out initiatives aimed at fostering a deeper understanding of global cultures. This included diversity training for its teams and launching scholarships to diversify fashion industry aspirants. Such a great PR initiative had a focus on change, rather than mere damage control, reinforced the brand’s commitment to its audience. Additionally, the Burberry Inspire arts and culture program within schools will now be expanded internationally. Its Creative Artist Scholarship intends to assist students by providing full-time positions

2. How Gucci managed Unintended Blackface Design controversy

The release of Gucci's black turtleneck sweater, bearing an uncanny resemblance to blackface, caused an uproar.

Swift Redressal

The fashion house promptly removed the item from sale, releasing a statement through their Twitter account. This way, they emphasized their commitment to upholding diversity and understanding.

Gucci is a example of luxury brand that managed controversies

Building a Diverse Future

Gucci realized that this incident highlighted an industry-wide controversial issue. In response, they made up by creating the 'Gucci Changemakers' volunteering program. This global initiative emphasized inclusivity and community engagement. As a result, this enables its employees across the globe to utilize up to four remunerated leave days annually for community service.

This endeavor encourages staff to collaborate with charitable entities they are passionate about. As a result of such CSR management, Gucci is positioned as one of leaders in fashion's journey toward inclusiveness.

3. How Balenciaga managed reputation failure after misportraying kids in its ad

balenciaga s  luxury brand that managed controversies

● Last November Balenciaga unveiled a commercial showing young children holding teddy bears in bondage and in BDSM style outfits. Similar attributes were seen at Balenciaga's Paris Fashion Week show. Public backlash followed the controversy swiftly. Many used #cancelBalenciaga on digital platforms, disapproving of the brand for endorsing child abuse and pedophilia.

● As PR recovery Balenciaga expressed regret and committed to amplifying the pivotal efforts of the NCA. This organization is dedicated to extracting children from harmful conditions and assisting their recovery from distressing experiences. With the backing of Balenciaga, the NCA is poised to equip nearly 2,000 professionals in the coming three years. They will ensure as many as 55,000 children receive the vital mental health support they require.

4. How Marriott managed Data Breach controversy

This luxury brand (hotel chain) knows how to manage controversies proficiently, drawing from a rich history of navigating challenges with poise and tact. Marriott has had at least seven data breaches since 2010. The most prominent in late 2018, Marriott International announced that it had suffered one of the largest data breaches in history. Thus, it potentially exposed personal information of up to 500 million guests.

As a result, concerns triggered bad publicity over identity theft, credit card fraud, and other potential misuse of the exposed data.

Marriott  is a example of luxury brand that managed controversies

Managing recovery process

● Open Communication

Rather than shying away from the bad news, Marriott promptly acknowledged the breach. Marriott's top executives, including the CEO, Arne Sorenson, made public statements accepting responsibility. So, the company apologized for the breach and laid out the steps the company was taking in response.

● Free Services

To manage this controversy Marriott offered affected customers a free one-year subscription to WebWatcher. This is a service that alerts users to potential misuse of their personal information online. After another data breach hit the chain, Marriott also updated the current passwords for its benefit programs with a two-factor authentication method. They also provided impacted US citizens with a year of free personal monitoring from IdentityWorks.

● Enhanced Security

They introduced multi-factor authentication and enhanced encryption for data protection.

● Engagement with Authorities

The company collaborated with law enforcement agencies worldwide to manage this controversy. Among them are data protection authorities under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) since EU citizens were involved. Besides, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general were involved for US citizens concerned. Also, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was consulted in countries where the chain operates.

How can Luxury brands manage controversies?

Bottura's iconic dessert is a metaphor for the luxury industry’s resilience and correct management of reputation. Actually, it's not about never making mistakes; it's about making the most of them when they happen. In other words, it's about turning setbacks into setups for grand comebacks. This way, we prove that true luxury lies not in perfection, but in perpetual evolution.


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