Brand Partnerships: John Boyega quits Jo Malone
September 19, 2020

Industry AnalysisBrand Partnerships: John Boyega quits Jo Malone

London born actor John Boyega quite his role as an ambassador for Jo Malone after the brand's unscrupulous actions.


    • London actor John Boyega quits his role as a global ambassador for fragrance brand Jo Malone after the “London Gent” advert controversy.
    • He calls out Jo Malone for re-purposing his creative direction and concept in a Chinese version of an advert. Jo Malone did not consult John or ask his permission to use his concept or remove him from the story.
    • The Chinese advert featuring local celebrity Liu Haoran was a copy of the London version. The ad has since been removed.
    • News and social media coverage has covered the story heavily – highlighting the importance of mutual respect, collaboration and professionalism in brand partnerships.
    • Advice to brands is to approach partnerships through the following lenses: aligned values, respect, collaboration and mutual decision making.

On Monday 14th September, Star Wars actor John Boyega quit his position as global brand ambassador for fragrance firm Jo Malone. This is unfortunate for the Estée Lauder owned business given what an intelligent, talented and passionate man John Boyega is… But they should have seen this coming given their unethical actions and lack of respect for John’s intellectual property.

Why did John Boyega quit Jo Malone?

Let’s start at the beginning. John was hired by Jo Malone in 2019 as a global brand ambassador and help the global fragrance brand come up with a classy creative idea of London Gent, with a short film depicting how the power of scent takes him back to fond memories of his London life and home, with friends and family in south London’s Peckham where he grew up. The video is joyous and ever so classy. Everyone featured in it was hand picked by John himself- he directed the whole thing. On Twitter he stated “The film celebrated my personal story – showcasing my hometown, including my friends and featuring my family”.

You can watch John Boyega’s London Gent video here:

So this week, Jo Malone released their Chinese activation for the same campaign. Taking the exact same concept, translating it into a Chinese language and re-filming it. Except, without any conversation and any consent, John’s entire concept was recycled and he was excluded from it. Ummm…. What?!

The script of the video was largely the same as the UK version, but Chinese celebrity Liu Haoran was cast as the protagonist.

Next thing, John has kicked off and stated how unacceptable this is and resigned from his role with Jo Malone. Quite right. And a massive loss to them that is.

Why Jo Malone is in the wrong?

It’s pretty normal, and advisable for brands to create content or edit campaigns as per the culture of the different markets they are promoting their brand in.
The first thing to note here is that there are some slight difference in the UK and Chinese versions of the adverts. For example, the Jo Malone products are more front and centre in the Chinese version. The other difference is John and his crew’s absence from the entire video.

The reason this is an issue is because John came up with the concept for Jo Malone, he conceptualised it. He casted his loved ones for it. He directed it. He clearly poured his heart and soul into it – which is obviously why the London Gent video is so beautifully done, emotive and classy. It’s raw and authentic.

So then, for this creative concept to be taken with no prior notice or discussions or even PERMISSION is simply unacceptable. Unethical. Jo Malone and its parent company have no right to treat brand partners with such contempt. How dare they, quite frankly! How arrogant of them to think they don’t need to receive John’s permission to use his ideas and exclude him from them.

Brand response

Jo Malone has since removed its video advert from the Chinese campaign.
A spokesperson for the brand said “We deeply apologise for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign… John is a tremendous artist with great personal vision and direction. The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated… While we immediately took action and removed the local version of the campaign, we recognise that this was painful and that offence was caused….We respect John, and support our partners and fans globally. We are taking this misstep very seriously and we are working together as a brand to do better moving forward.

What can we learn from this about brand partnerships

Brand partnerships and ambassador programmes are exactly that… Partnerships. Partnerships are a union of mutual respect and collective decision making. In this instance Jo Malone has forgotten both of these points.

If brands want a bad reputation of exploiting their ambassadors then this is exactly how to go about it.

Successful partnerships require aligned values, respect, collaboration and mutual decision making. These are the things I recommend you bear in mind when working on your brand partnerships.

If you don’t approach partnerships in this way, it is sure to backfire on your brand in some way. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Karma is real in the world of business too. Be nice. Do things for the good of everyone you’re working with and everyone you’re serving with your business product.

Jo Malone released a statement owning their mistake, but it’s too little to late. This controversy has also shed light on brands pushing black stars to the sidelines in the Chinese market. You can read up on John’s past experience with Star Wars in China to learn more here.

Brand partnerships are sacred if you’re doing them right. Act with respect and consideration.


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