Dolce & Gabbana’s Marketing Mishap

2018-12-03 by Ronn Torossian

Dolce & Gabbana’s Marketing Mishap

It’s been a shaky couple of weeks for Dolce and Gabbana, after they released an ad campaign that has been described as “disrespectful and racist”. The backlash has been immediate and hard, ranging from boycotts by celebrities and having its products withdrawn from Chinese e-commerce sites.

The Italian luxury fashion house’s controversial advertising campaign includes videos of a Chinese model struggling to eat various Italian dishes with chopsticks. The ad was designed to promote a major fashion show in Shanghai, which has now been canceled.

Chinese-French model Estelle Chen, who withdrew from the show, tagged Dolce and Gabbana on an Instagram post, saying “You don’t love China, you love money”.

Sun Baohong, a Marketing Professor at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, commented on how wealthy Chinese consumer are evolving. “Before it was about showing off social status”, she said. “Now it’s about making a personal statement”. Baohong considered the campaign to be way off the mark. “The ad is really showing a very old-fashioned image of China. Chinese consumers still love foreign brands, but things are changing”. With the combination of #BoycottDolce trending on Chinese social media site Weibo and Chinese e-commerce sites de-listing Dolce and Gabbana products, the company has a lot of worry about. Alienating customers is always bad, but for a luxury brand, pushing away Chinese consumers can be fatal.

China’s appetite for luxury brands has been soaring, with sales going up as much as 30% in the first half of 2018 for brands like Gucci and Alexander McQueen. According to consultancy McKinsey, Chinese consumers spend over $7 billions on luxury goods, nearly one-third of the market. To add to their list of mishaps, the company has also been reeling from offensive comments sent Stefano Gabbana’s Instagram account. Gabbana denied writing the messages and said his account was hacked. With the flood of criticism, co-founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana attempted to explain themselves on social media:

“Our dream was to bring Shanghai a tribute event dedicated to China which tells our history and vision. It was not simply a fashion show, but something that we created especially with love and passion for China.”

The co-founders issued a stoic response on camera, saying they have a “deep love” for China. Dolce said “Our family values teach us that we must respect different cultures in the world”, with Gabbana adding, “it will certainly never happen again.” The apology had a little effect on stemming the crisis and people are quick to point out the five-day delay in the apology. There were also accusations that the two founders weren’t sincere.

The crisis highlights the importance of having local sensitivities, even if you’re a well-recognized global brand. It also brings to light how easily a crisis can be fuelled through social media platforms. The daunting task ahead for the company now is to make amends and regain consumer trust in China and it’s definitely not going to be easy.

Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 200 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities