Chanel’s Advent Calendar Is a (PR) Nightmare Before Christmas

What the response to the poorly received festive product says about Gen Z consumers

Driving relevance means driving growth. Join global brands and industry thought leaders at Brandweek, Sept. 11–14 in Miami, for actionable takeaways to better your marketing. 50% off passes ends April 10.

Branded Advent calendars are all the rage right now. And it makes sense! As someone on Twitter recently—and brilliantly—described, Advent calendars are like ‘microdosing Christmas.’ What brand wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

It’s a daily opportunity to surprise and delight customers who raised their hand and said “yes, bring on 25 days of (insert brand here)!” Some do it with tiny jars of Bonne Maman jam; others drop hundreds of dollars for little bits of joy from their favorite luxury brand—to each their own. No matter the Advent calendar, branded or not, the point is a daily delight and definitely not a disappointment.

Unfortunately, this year, Chanel did not get the memo.

Like many beauty and luxury brands before them, it decided to take advantage of this opportunity for long-term, interactive engagement with an $825 entry based on the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle—an item like that is basically purpose-built for social media virality. And the brand certainly achieved it… just not quite in a way it likely envisioned.

A savage unboxing

Elise Harmon was one of several TikTokers to take to the platform for an unboxing, only to be foiled by a series of tchotchkes that were a serious let-down given the price tag—things like stickers, a keychain and a string bracelet with a wax seal-like pendant embossed with the Chanel logo described as ‘giving plastic bottle cap.’

Making matters worse, Harmon followed up with a video declaring she was blocked by the brand—a claim Chanel vehemently denies, stating instead that its TikTok channel was never active in the first place. But the damage was already done. What started on TikTok made its way to YouTube and Instagram, where the brand was roasted by individuals, influencers and industry watchdogs like Diet Prada.

As Harmon smartly summed up, it’s simply not going to go well for brands that “don’t understand that we’re experiencing a cultural shift in awareness…which means they will need to acclimate to their consumers’ new needs and desires.” She credited the pandemic for this shift—which has certainly accelerated matters—but the reality is, we were always headed here, with Gen Z as our new cultural center of gravity.

Why this fails to meet the Gen Z Expectation

With high expectations they expect to be met, this is a generation that’s answering the question ‘does what comes next need to look so much like what came before?’ with a resounding no.

They’re emboldened with the idea that they can and will make a difference, no matter the scale of the mountain in front of them, and they’ve been taught to believe that their voice and values deserve to be heard by the many, including the brands that serve them.

At the forefront of the shifting power dynamic explored in the recent New Worlds Order trends report, young people today are upending ideals of ownership, status and control, forcing brands to get on board or get left in the dust.

One might think this spells trouble for legacy luxury, but for brands like Balenciaga and Gucci, this New World Order has turned into an experimental playground. Dabbling in virtual goods and world-building, they’re putting their brands in the hands of young people across platforms like Roblox, Zepeto and Fortnite.

Gucci’s focus on the next generation, which also included early adoption of TikTok and forays into resale with The RealReal, has paid off, making it the most popular luxury brand among Gen Z.

It’s a not-so-magic formula that comes down to two critical things: meeting young people where they are and not being so protectively precious about your brand and its assets. And when it comes down to it, that’s where Chanel came up short, letting Jo Malone swoop in with an easy win (getting its own less disappointing Advent calendar in the hands of Elise Harmon and in front of all her new followers) while delivering its only real, official replies in old-school pubs like WWD and Business of Fashion.

Not understanding the value of Advent calendars in the first place is one thing; not understanding your next generation of consumers is quite another.