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Burberry in spotlight over ad showing model with double mastectomy

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By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

January 30, 2023 | 8 min read

Burberry pulled an image from its latest campaign after heavy criticism. Now groups representing trans people have slammed the brand for trying to “profit from our image” but failing to stand by its decision.

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Burberry seems to have removed this image from Instagram / Burberry

Luxury fashion house Burberry launched a Valentine’s Day campaign last week titled ‘B:MINE’, which included an image of a model with scars from a double mastectomy.

While the campaign video has remained live (shown below), the brand has pulled one image of a shirtless model embracing a love interest (pictured, above).

Critics were quick to accuse the brand of “glamorizing” the mastectomy procedure, often used in the treatment of cancer or for those transitioning genders. Others said Burberry was wrongly inserting itself into a political agenda.

One Christian conservative group called Concerned Women for America responded to the campaign: “Burberry’s new ad campaign has nothing to do with selling clothes but selling an ideology to young women that they were born in the wrong body and the only way to feel better is to become a boy.”

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As criticism mounted, Burberry pulled the imagery from its sites without acknowledgment or a formal statement. The brand has not returned The Drum’s request for comment.

The approach has angered activist groups. Danielle St James, chief executive of trans charity Not A Phase, told The Drum that the decision to cut it “reflects a complete lack of integrity by the brand”.

“As a society, we have learned over the last decade how representation can completely change someone’s life, seeing yourself reflected in the vision of someone in the media is vitally important; without it, anyone that doesn’t fit the straight, cis, white, able-bodied image that was exclusively celebrated prior to more recent times is left feeling like they do not belong,” St James said.

The campaign comes as Burberry doubles down on efforts to engage a new, younger, demographic. Last year marked a turning point for the brand, with its collaboration with streetwear heavyweight Supreme helping to broaden its consumer base. A few months after the drop, chief exec Jonathan Akeroyd noted that the 167-year-old brand’s “Britishness” is what would stand it apart from rivals and that it was confidently realizing its “potential as the modern British luxury brand”. The “modern” marketing strategy would be central to its goal of hitting £5bn in revenue.

But Steven Braines, co-founder of an inclusive agency called He She They, said too many brands are trying to profit through the LGBTQ+ community. “Any business can stand with us in the LGBTQ+ community when they have something to gain, true allyship is when brands stand with the community when they have something to lose.”

It’s his view that Burberry should have kept the photo up, turned off the comments and posted a message of solidarity with the community.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation organization, there are huge opportunities to expand inclusion within advertising campaigns and non-LGBTQ consumers often look favorably upon companies that include LGBTQ people in their ads.

“It’s disappointing, but sadly unsurprising, to see how the mainstream media has reacted to this specific issue, describing the trans+ person featured as ‘a girl with a double mastectomy’ and comparing this to the recent scandal of Balenciaga’s alleged child abuse,” continued Not a Phase’s St James.

“We are living through another cultural revolution for trans people and – when it comes to media representation – we need the brands that profit from our image to stand by their decisions and back us when the ignorant mafia inevitably pile on.”

Samantha Crossley, chief creative officer at Little Digital, argues that Burberry’s silence has been extremely harmful. “The couple in this campaign probably felt very safe in the hands of a global brand like Burberry,” she said.

“It’s not just about wanting a statement for the sake of it being the right thing to do — it’s actually dangerous. This image is already up on mummy blogs and forums where the hate is directed at the individual rather than at Burberry. There’s a duty of care to not abandon contributors, especially those of marginalized communities and backgrounds.”

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