D&G founders apologise, claims 'deep love' for Chinese culture: A start to recovery?

The founders of Dolce & Gabbana (D&G), Domenico Dolce (pictured right) and Stefano Gabbana (pictured left), have apologised for the online furore it caused recently. In a Weibo video, Dolce said it has "seriously reflected" on what the company's words and actions have brought upon the Chinese people and China and are "deeply saddened".

"Our family upbringing taught us to respect the different countries around the world. Herein, we seek your forgiveness on having erred in understanding the culture," Dolce said. He added that D&G has always been passionate about China and the pair's numerous visits to the country have resulted in deeper love for Chinese culture.

"Of course, we still have plenty areas of improvement. With regards to our earlier error, we must apologise," he said, requesting the public to accept the apology "from the bottom of [their] hearts".

Gabbana added that D&G takes this apology "very seriously" and once again expressed their "deepest apologies" to every Chinese person worldwide. "We will definitely not forget this experience and lesson. Such an incident will definitely not occur again. At the same time, we will put additional effort into understanding and respecting the Chinese culture," Gabbana said. The video ended with both men apologising in Mandarin.

The luxury brand's racist new ad and alleged comments about the Chinese have led to e-commerce sites such as Tmall, JD.com, Vipshop and Yanxuan pulling D&G products off its sites. Hong Kong retail company Lane Crawford also dropped the luxury brand. Meanwhile, other global e-commerce platforms such as Yoox Net-a-Porter and Secoo have delisted all D&G products on its Chinese websites.

This comes soon after it postponed its fashion show in Shanghai, The Great Show, and Chinese celebrities including Zhang Ziyi, Chen Kun and Li Bingbing declined to attend. D&G copped flak when it published three 40-second ads featuring a model struggling to eat a pizza with chopsticks on its Facebook, Weibo, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

A road to recovery?

Edwin Yeo, GM of SPRG Singapore said that while the video ad was insensitive, it was alleged comments made after that, supposedly by one of the founders that really deepened the crisis. While the founders claimed an Instagram hack had occurred, the damage however has already happened.

“The video can be forgiven as a mistake, but if the remarks following showed true racist tendencies of the founders, then it's going to be difficult to recover from. [The founders’] only real respite from this is to prove that the account was indeed hacked, but damage has already been done and it's a long road to recovery, even if it is true that they were hacked,” he said.

He added that one quick way to recovery is by reaching out to high profile personalities such as Zhang Ziyi who had boycotted the brand and explain to her and her team what had happened - and be sincere in their remorse. The founders’ video apology was a good start, but not quite enough. “All is not completely lost, but it will be a long while before the brand sees the same kind of business again. It really depends on the team’s restitution efforts in the months ahead,” he added.

Tarun Deo, managing director Singapore and SEA at Golin said D&G is generally an edgy brand and both the protagonists are edgy and outspoken - it is part of their individual personalities.

“If you look at [the founders'] creations, the edginess from their personality is translated to their creatives. When you are operating in those margins, you can cross a line sometimes and a backlash like the one they are facing in China occurs,” he said. But he added, it could just be that they “intentionally crossed for probably publicity”.

To recover, Deo added that the brand needs to figure out the line between their edginess and what is acceptable in the markets that the brand operates in. The team cannot simply go back to business as usual without addressing these challenges.

“China is a huge market for them and they have to examine that. As a brand, I don’t think it will change who/what it is, but should it taper what it is? That’s the question for the founders to answer and act on,” Deo added.

Also weighing in on the conversation is Be Strategic's chief strategist, Ashvin Anamalai, who said it is the norm for marketers to accept a "grand task" of pushing boundaries while delivering clever, relatable messages, especially in today's landscape of viral, attention-grabbing content.

Anamalai said D&G's video succeeded in achieving this, albeit in a clumsy and controversial fashion, since it has been smeared by allegations of racism and racial supremacy, despite becoming the most talked about brand worldwide at this moment. D&G is at a pivotal moment in this campaign. How it responds to the brand's global viral moment could determine how it capitalises on being the hottest hashtag in the world, he said.

"When taking risks, especially in the digital landscape where everything is up for scrutiny and reputations could be destroyed within minutes, it is essential that campaigns be set up with layers of preparation to respond to moments of crisis such as this," Anamalai explained.