Cartier is being accused of gay erasure in Chinese ads.
A new campaign for its classic Trinity ring, released Monday, showcases several pairs of people in a minute-long video spot: a straight couple dancing on a rooftop, two women holding hands and playing guitar, and two men bicycling and embracing one another.
The advertisement ends with a question: "How far would you go for love?"
The insinuation from the text, visuals, and sweeping music is that the pairs presented in the ad are all lovers. However, shoppers at Tmall — China's premiere digital shopping marketplace — are reporting on social media that the same-sex couples in the video are also featured as still-image ads with captions claiming their relationships are strictly platonic.
"Mutual understanding beyond words. Witness our everlasting friendship," read the text under the two women, reports The Guardian. Likewise, copy under the two men claimed, "Father and son are also friends — happily sharing life's journey." When users pointed out that they seemed too similar in age, the text was changed to, "Father and son are like brothers."
"It’s weird to use a ring to explain the relationship between father and son," stated one online user. On Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent, another wrote, "They look three years apart in age at most. Also, I’ve never heard of fathers and sons wearing matching rings."
"Trying so hard to conceal something has made something ordinary so weird," another added.
Designed in 1924, Cartier's Trinity ring is actually three bands that symbolize different aspects of a relationship: white gold (friendship), yellow gold (fidelity), and rose gold band (true love). It is often used as a wedding ring and almost always associated with lovers. Furthermore, the new ad campaign was tied to the Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine's Day.
However, Cartier, in a Thursday statement responding to the confusion, stood by the gifting of the ring, which can retail over $3,000, for friendship and "family love."
"As such, one of the stories features the unique bond between a father and his son, enjoying a joyful and playful bike ride together, symbolizing the journey of life when there will be moments of parting ways," Cartier stated, according to CNN.
While social media users worried that Cartier's gay erasure would cause stigma, Yanzi Peng, director of China Rainbow Media Awards, proposed that the brand had good intentions by trying to circumvent Chinese censors. Gay relationships in China are not illegal but remain culturally taboo, and censorship of LGBTQ-inclusive media, such as the queer kiss scenes in Bohemian Rhapsody, is common.
"Some may believe [Cartier] is just trying to make some 'pink dollars,' but I'm inclined to be more positive in thinking that they are supporting gay rights in a way ... by raising our visibility through this kind of ads," Peng told CNN. "Of course supporting gay rights will also bring these companies economic benefits — it is a win-win scenario."