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 The backlash has been immediate and hard, ranging from boycotts by celebrities and having its products withdrawn from Chinese e-commerce sites.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.