What can we learn from the last Dolce & Gabbana PR disaster in China

DGLovesChina

Global luxury brands are trying very hard to conquer the Chinese market, fit in the local culture and engage with the consumers and their ever-changing behaviours. While some brands appear to be succeeding in creating a real conversation with their audience, some others are struggling to understand the local culture.

Gucci and Alessandro Michele’s story of success

The 'A Magazine Curated By' art exhibit in Beijing featured favourites of Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. This room showcased a "Cabinet of Curiosities," featuring several high jewellery themed art pieces. (Courtesy of jingdaily.com)

The ‘A Magazine Curated By’ art exhibit in Beijing featured favourites of Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. This room showcased a “Cabinet of Curiosities,” featuring several high jewellery themed art pieces. (Courtesy of jingdaily.com)

A successful example comes from Gucci, that fuelled the expression of its brand identity in a slightly traditional way, by curating an art exhibition in Beijing’s art district 798, together with the high-end fashion publication A Magazine Curated By. Luxury fashion houses are no strangers to the art world, and this is becoming increasingly so in China.  When Alessandro Michele took the role of Gucci’s creative director in 2015, he gave the brand a more artistic, makeover. He was also responsible for the Chinese-inspired Gucci Tian pattern as well as Gucci Gram, an online collaboration with emerging contemporary artists from around the world. Last year, the Gucci Gram Tian campaign spotlighted photographers and illustrators in China, including the late Beijing-based photographer Ren Hang (R.I.P.) and Guangzhou-based artist Cao Fei. In 2015, Ren helped Gucci shoot a series of photos that were exhibited online with many other talented photographers and visual artists around the world. The brand said Ren’s photograph was successful in communicating the essence of the collection by combining human bodies, natural views and objects of desire “in the most deliciously confusing way.” While Gucci showed the capability to understand the local mood, other brands have failed. Most notably Victoria’s Secret and Dolce & Gabbana.

Ren Hang for Gucci. Image courtesy of mrsoundandvision.com

Ren Hang for Gucci. Image courtesy of mrsoundandvision.com

Victoria’s Secret and their tacky idea of China

Supermodels Kendall Jenner with phoenix wings (R), Elsa Hosk with a dragon wrap (C), and Adriana Lima with embroidered stiletto boots (L) in the recent Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in Paris. Image courtesy of jingdaily.com

Supermodels Kendall Jenner with phoenix wings (R), Elsa Hosk with a dragon wrap (C), and Adriana Lima with embroidered stiletto boots (L) in the recent Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Paris. Image courtesy of jingdaily.com

In last year’s annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the brand’s additional attempts to woo Chinese consumers through dragon-themed outfits fell flat on China’s internet. Several of the lingerie-clad models were sporting Chinese elements on their elaborate outfits, including Elsa Hosk’s dragon wrap, Adriana Lima’s embroidered stiletto boots, and Kendall Jenner’s phoenix wings, among others. Right after the Victoria’s Secret show was broadcast online to a global audience, it led to heated discussions on China’s social media sites as most people failed to find Chinese traditional beauty in the outfits. On WeChat, many bloggers were less harsh about the presentation of Chinese culture. This wasn’t the first time (and probably not the last) a foreign brand has tried to impress Chinese consumers through making Chinese cultural references with shocking or displeasing products. Chinese New Year seems always the best time of the year to come up with Chinese-cliché-fuelled products.

Twitter mockeries on a screenshot from the ad. Image courtesy of newnownext.com

Twitter mockeries on a screenshot from the ad. Image courtesy of newnownext.com

It’s funny (although not surprising, I would say) how the Kardashian is recently becoming a global phenomenon of PR dramas and cultural failures, following her starring in a controversial Pepsi ad that completely trivialised Black Lives Matter. (Video here)

Dolce & Gabbana and their stubborn idiocy

Dolce & Gabbana 2016 Spring Campaign

Dolce & Gabbana 2016 Spring Campaign

Differently from Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana decided to take on a more “aggressive” communication approach. Last year, Dolce & Gabbana caused a stir by sending its Asian models down the runway dressed as stereotypical “Chinese tourists” wearing qipaos and carrying cameras or a mobile phone to reference their propensity for taking photos. Not satisfied with it, D&G again casted models of Asian descent as Chinese tourists for their 2016 spring campaign ads. “The Chinese” are seen throughout the images reading Sicilian travel books, taking selfies with “locals” as they are so described on the brand’s Facebook and carrying shopping bags.

Dolce & Gabbana 2016 Spring Campaign

Dolce & Gabbana 2016 Spring Campaign

This year, Dolce & Gabbana they double the disaster. The controversy stems from a series of photos tagged DGLovesChina posted on the brand’s official account on Chinese social network Weibo. Shot by photography team Morelli Brothers, the collection of photos shows several models wearing high-end fashion gowns pose themselves in Beijing’s centuries-old hutongs and famous tourist attractions such as Tiananmen Square, next to ordinary people such as tourists as well as taxi and pedicab drivers.The marketing campaign is part of the brand’s attempt to localise itself to cater to Chinese consumers. D&G has launched similar campaigns in Hong Kong and Japan, in which models were seen against relatively fancier backgrounds with skyscrapers and flashing neon billboards.

The most controversial shot from DGLovesChina campaign

The most controversial shot from DGLovesChina campaign

While the intention was to attempt shorten the distance between the general people and fashion (maybe, I don’t really know what they were trying to do there), the final outcome just reflects the marketing team outdated and stereotypical view of China.

DGLovesChina

DGLovesChina

The campaign didn’t click with the target audience, and actually triggered a huge debate in Chinese social media on whether D&G intentionally stereotyped China by choosing outdated street views as background instead of advanced modern areas such as the financial district in the city. Many of the comments on the Chinese social media platform Weibo labeled the photo collection as “offensive.” Comments on Weibo span from “What you love is not China, but Chinese people’s money!” and “It almost looks like North Korea! This is definitely not what China looks like now!”.

DGLovesChina

DGLovesChina

The spontaneous and informal style of the smiling photographs may have clashed with the Chinese concept of “face,“ especially since foreigners are involved. By “exposing” a side of China that doesn’t feature its postive traits as seen in big international events like the Beijing Olympics, Dolce & Gabbana may have inadvertently embarrassed its hosts. Dolce & Gabbana has since taken the photos down, but it has not provided any comment or clarification.

DGLovesChina

DGLovesChina

Dolce & Gabbana are real veterans of PR disasters in China. In 2012 the Dolce & Gabbana store in Hong Kong had released a policy forbidding Hong Kong residents from taking photos inside or outside its flagship store, purportedly in order to protect its “intellectual property.” But residents were enraged after learning that mainland Chinese and foreign tourists were excluded from the photo ban. Insanity ensued, with more than 1,000 protestors shutting down Canton Street, taking blatant photos of the store and forcing it to close early.

DGLovesChina

DGLovesChina

Conclusion

There’s a level of ignorance that continues to pervade the fashion industry as a whole; and, particularly in Dolce & Gabbana, there seems to be no end to their outdated and stereotypical view of Asian culture. As the Chinese market is now one of the most important segments for these brands, many are going to need to rethink their Western perspective of Orientalism or stereotyped approach to Chinese culture. For many Chinese customers, if a brand cannot show an appropriate understanding of Chinese culture in its approach to this market, it is better just not to approach it at all. Global brands should start rely more on talent that shows a strong understanding of the local culture instead of insisting in this paternalistic and neo-colonialist approach.

Read more:

How Chinese Consumers Reacted to Dragons on the Runway at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter

Remembering Ren Hang: How the Late Photographer Left His Mark on Art and Luxury in China

Gucci Takes Its Chinese Fans Beyond Fashion and into the Creative World of Alessandro Michele

Dolce & Gabbana Officially Apologizes To Hong Kong For That Photo-Banning Incident

DOLCE & GABBANA’S SPRING COLLECTION INCLUDED A MISGUIDED TRIBUTE TO CHINESE TOURISTS

DOLCE & GABBANA’S BUSY SPRING CAMPAIGN STARS CHINESE ‘TOURISTS’ AND SELFIE-TAKING ‘LOCALS’




  • Luigi Cormaci

    buongiorno Michele, non sono molto d’accordo con il tuo articolo, una Brand deve avere un anima e se deve cambiarla che si può adeguare al mercato non cambiare per il mercato.
    DG si e’ sempre prestante come lusso alternativo richiamando in maniera importante la cultura italiana in particolare quelle del sud italia.
    In Cina il lusso e’ ancora un riscontro sociale più che una personale posizione, Gucci e LV vendono perché chi li indossa viene visto e riconosciuto da gli altri.
    La singole persona in Cina non esiste ancora, sono casi molto rari per cui il lusso stravagante e’ solo per pochi.
    Condivido invece che avere una comunicazione può fare crescere la conoscenza del Brand, ma non ritengo giusto cambiare l’anima.

    • MG

      Ciao Luigi, grazie del feedback. Sono d’accordo ma sinceramente non trovo dove sia l’anima del sud Italia in quelle foto scattate a Pechino..

      • Luigi Cormaci

        condivido che le foto sono molte provocatorie e sicuramente non piacciono al pubblico cinese, ma dal mio punto di vista centrano una realtà.
        Molto probabilmente, come giustamente hai indicato tu, non porteranno un incremento di immagine per DG in Cina ma nel lusso il PR e arte si mescolano,e non sempre i messaggi sono piacevoli.