Iconic fashion house Chanel is being dragged online after a social media influencer unboxed the company's Advent calendar and discovered it was full of trinkets that don't appear worth anything close to the $1,025 price tag.
The brand launched the Advent calendar this year in a box of items numbered from five to 31. Unlike traditional Advent calendars, which start on December 1st and are followed by new treats to be discovered every day for the next 24 leading up to Christmas day, Chanel's starts on day five as a nod to the brand's iconic fragrance, Chanel No. 5.
The calendar was released this year to celebrate the fragrance's centennial, which was released by the company's eponymous co-founder Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel 100 years ago.
TikTok user Elise Harmon obtained one of the kits and broadcast herself opening up its contents, which included a full-sized bottle of hand cream, a miniature tube of lipstick and a bottle containing 35 millilitres of perfume, but was mostly just miscellaneous branded items, including stickers with the company's logo, a dust bag, a magnet, a bookmark, a key ring, and a flipbook.
"Stickers?" Harmon exclaims in her first video on the unboxing of the kit, which has been viewed more than 14 million times since it was posted four days ago. "This has to be a joke," she says of the kit, which retails for $1,025 Cdn.
"I'm kinda bummed so maybe I should just open something else," she said.
Many of the items in the calendar aren't sold individually. But included among the items for which a price is listed or comparable are:
A sample (1.5 ml) of Chanel No. 5. A 100-ml version sells for $190.
A 50 ml hand cream that retails for $70.
A full size Rouge Allure lipstick, which retails for $52.
A full size Rouge Puissant nail polish, which retails for $38.
A 35-ml bottle of the No. 5 eau de parfum, which retails for $99.
A 75-g bar of hand and body soap with the No. 5 scent. A 150-g bar sells for $37.
A 6-g sample of No. 5-scented body cream. A 150-g tub would cost $105.
Not a bad strategy?
While reaction to the videos has been mostly negative online, marketing expert Scott Stratten says what Chanel is actually selling isn't that abnormal, by luxury brand standards.
"I could argue that for most luxury brands, you're paying for a name versus the item you get, but this kind of does push the boundary a little bit," the founder of Unmarketing told CBC News in an interview.
"The pushback doesn't equate the actual impact to the brand," he said. "Every person sharing this right now on TikTok or Instagram or anywhere else is also giving them exposure and marketing [and] if you're that into Chanel, you don't really care what other people think about a calendar or a box or an item."
Crisis communications specialist Josh Cobden with public relations firm Proof Strategies says the saga is likely having little impact on the brand's core customers.
"I am guessing that many of Chanel's regular customers either haven't seen what's going on on social media right now or may not be all that interested or bothered by it," he said in an interview. "There may be many happy owners of Chanel's Advent calendar out there who haven't bothered to tell the world of social media."
WATCH | Josh Cobden explains the perils of using influencer marketing:
But, Los Angeles-based digital marketing expert Alexandra Nikolajev says the calendar was a missed opportunity for the Chanel brand to connect with a younger audience that values authenticity and transparency.
The predominantly younger users of TikTok are an audience "they should want to be developing and cultivating as future consumers of Chanel," she said in an interview with CBC News. "They didn't hit the mark on the expectation of that audience," she said, describing the entire story as "chaos" for the brand.
On its website, Chanel says there are "ultra-limited quantities" of the calendar for sale, and its Canadian website appears to suggest that it is no longer available.
Unopened versions of the calendar are being sold on eBay for even higher prices than the $1,025 that Chanel listed it for.
Stratton says he's not surprised to see it sold out. "A lot of those people will also be going to buy it just to make videos on how much they don't like it," he said.
Chanel disputes claims
Harmon claims that after her video went viral, Chanel shut down its TikTok account, but in a statement to CBC News, the fashion house says that isn't the case.
"It has never been activated, no content has ever been published, it has no subscriber and no subscription," the company told CBC News in a statement. "The page therefore appears empty to anyone who visits it."
Although the company says it is "sorry that this calendar may have disappointed some people," it disagreed that it was somehow being misleading as to what the package actually contained.
"The exclusive content of the calendar has always been fully detailed on our website as well as on the packaging of the product," Chanel said. "This calendar, only available for a short period, has a unique design and an original content which make it a true collector's item whose value cannot be summed up by the products it contains alone."
WATCH | Alexandra Nikolajev explains how Chanel missed the mark:
Nikolajev says the entire affair speaks to how fast misinformation can spread online, due to social media influencers who have just as much of a vested interest in going viral as brands do.
"They're seeing a situation happen and they're steamrolling on the opportunity because for them, it does build their credibility and it does build their audience, which is ultimately what they want," she said.