Saturday, January 5, 2019

Questions Americans Are Asking: "Can Dolce & Gabbana Recover from Its Mistakes in China?"

We like Dolce & Gabbana, they're cheeky..

In this case, maybe a bit too .
And their ads ran at a time when China is flexing their make in China buy in China protectionist muscles so even though D&G apologized twice, with apparently real abject remorse, they're probably screwed until the upper-end consumer is comfortable flaunting the label again. That may take a while and a must-have product or two. They could start with the return of the By Dolce&Gabbana cologne and work a long term plan to recover mindshare.

From Knowledge@Wharton:
Wharton's Marshall Meyer, NYU's Thomai Serdari and Carlos Torelli from the University 
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discuss the Dolce & Gabbana boycott in China.
Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana is trying to clean up a public relations mess in China that could cost the company hundreds of millions. In November, the luxury brand launched three ads on the Chinese social media network Weibo to promote its Shanghai runway show. The videos depict an Asian woman wearing a D&G cocktail dress, trying to eat pizza margherita, an oversized cannoli and spaghetti pomodoro using chopsticks. A male voice in Mandarin presents the videos, saying, “Welcome to the first episode of ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ by Dolce & Gabbana,” while the model stabs at the food. “Is it too big for you?” the narrator mocks when the woman tries to pick up the giant cannoli.

The ads were viewed as disrespectful, racist, sexist and stereotypical, prompting a swift backlash from Chinese consumers, celebrities, media and even the government. Retailers and online sites dumped D&G products as founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana scrambled to save face. They removed the videos within 24 hours, but more trouble followed when a Chinese fashion blogger shared a screen shot of an Instagram conversation in which Gabbana apparently called China a “country of [poop emojis]” among other insults. (Gabbana subsequently claimed his account had been hacked.)

The founders issued a personal apology video in which Gabbana said, “We will never forget this experience, and it will definitely never happen again.” But the mea culpa wasn’t enough to defuse the backlash, and the Shanghai show was canceled.

The incident has been a blow to the company, although it remains unclear just how much it will lose from the boycott or how it will affect the overall health of the brand. The company posted revenue of 1.29 billion euros in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, of which 25% came from the Asia-Pacific region, according to Business Insider Italia. The controversy does illuminate the issue of cultural sensitivity in an increasingly global marketplace. China, with its burgeoning economy, accounts for one-third of spending on luxury goods worldwide, according to a study by Bain consultancy.

The Knowledge@Wharton radio show on Sirius XM invited three experts to discuss the D&G dilemma. Marshall W. Meyer is a Wharton emeritus professor of management who specializes in China; Thomai Serdari is an adjunct professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a luxury branding strategist; and Carlos Torelli is a business administration professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following are key takeaways from their conversation.

Don’t Underestimate the Problem
All three experts were aghast at the commercials, which still can be seen on They can’t understand what the company was thinking in creating and releasing such obviously problematic ads.
“I looked at those video clips, and I just shuddered,” Meyer said. “I think in any culture, the portrayal of eating inappropriately is going to lead to a negative response.”
“I looked at those video clips, and I just shuddered.” –Marshall Meyer
If the goal was to be funny, Torelli said, Dolce & Gabbana failed in spectacular fashion. “Sometimes brands want to differentiate by … being a little bit outrageous and blusterous. Sometimes you can try to get away with that because of the high status that your brand has, but I just can’t understand what went through their minds when they were doing this,” he noted. “It’s like they tried to create the most outrageous thing [without] considering the consequences…. [It’s] incomprehensible how this passed any marketing test.”

Companies must be careful with comedy because it can easily backfire. Serdari pointed out that D&G would have been better off making commercials that portrayed Italians in China, not knowing how to eat Chinese food.

“I think it would have made a whole world of difference if they had approached the cultural difference from that perspective rather than what they did,” she said. “It is very important in luxury to be able to present humorous campaigns, but it’s also important to have the joke be on you.”
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, London-based Brand Finance consultancy estimates the scandal could wipe up to 20% off the Dolce & Gabbana brand’s value, so the scope of the problem is significant.

“This is really a [major] problem considering that [China] is a big market for luxury brands,” Torelli said. “They really messed up. This is a classic example of a bad decision. … They’re trying to clean it up now, but definitely the impact in terms of lost business is already being felt. They’ve been dropped from multiple retailers, and the backlash is just tremendous.”

Don’t Underestimate the Chinese Consumer
Companies that want to sell in China would do well to remember that Chinese customers are smart and sophisticated, the three experts noted.

“Chinese consumers shop online, and they’re very, very savvy in terms of how they find their products,” Serdari said. “The global positioning of these companies is very important for the Chinese, and they have access to all internet tools. They can cause really big harm to those companies that don’t [play by] the rules.”...

Mr. Dolce and Mr. Gabbana are gay. Joyfully, riotously, flamboyantly gay.
In March 2016 they pissed off the gay community:
Dolce & Gabbana Break The Internet Coming Out Against Gay Parenthood, Elton John Cries Vendetta

"Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions.
I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana."

—E. John

It was probably all based on some romanticized, sepia-toned vision of the Italian family, very poorly stated by a couple whose business is creating fantasy. Hmmm...
The hubbub lasted for a few months until:

 June 18, 2016
This Father's Day, #Boycott Dolce & Gabbana.... this $245 #Boycott Dolce & Gabbana t-shirt:

At D&G's website.
Trolling is an art form.

Or, in the words of the philosopher Larry the Cable Guy:
"I don't care who you are, that's funny"

Although, truth be told, since they discontinued the By Dolce & Gabbana cologne I don't stop by as often.
By February 2018 things had calmed down and there were rumors in the gay press that Elton had reconciled and was back to wearing (discretely) some D&G and the fasion pair were doing their thing again:

"Dolce & Gabbana used drones to carry handbags down the runway instead of models"
Because human models are so last season

As noted in the outro from that piece:
...I missed a trick on the cologne. When D&G discontinued the scent you could still procure it in size for $95-125. It's now being offered out at $400-500 on eBay albeit with the huge caveat: there are a lot of knock-offs.

Anyhoo somehow related to all of the above, the intro to 2017's "Fashion: Bernie Sanders Is the Inspiration For Balenciaga’s Fall 2017 Menswear Collection":
A couple weeks late to this but interesting as a reflection of bizarro world Zeitgeist.

That said however, should  Dolce & Gabbana come out with an Eau De Bernie I will probably just curl up in a corner of the office to await the end times....
And that's our fashion coverage for this month.