Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) is no stranger to controversies in the China market. The brand first found itself in a PR storm last year after it rolled out a series of ads featuring an Asian model eating Italian food with chopsticks. This was followed by alleged racist comments from one of the founders on Instagram.
Thinking that the dust had settled, most recent the brand unveiled its new collection called “The Chinese New Year Print”, which featured an imagery of the pig to coincide with the Year of the Pig. Unfortunately, the line did not sit well with Chinese consumers, with many seeing it opportunistic.
Industry players Marketing spoke to also agreed to the consumer sentiments deeming it "too soon". According to Edwin Yeo, GM of SPRG Singapore, the brand should work to repair its reputation before trying to create products catering specifically to the market it has already offended. He said:
I probably wouldn't push a new product down the consumer's throat until proper remedy had been done for the past mistake.
He added that the three steps to take in a crisis such as this would be to regret, reason and remedy.
However, it is not surprising that D&G was looking to leverage on the festive season to increase sales, he added. "It is possible that D&G's data analysis told the teams that despite the backlash, it would be profitable to sell a Chinese New Year product," Yeo added. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen if the crisis will affect D&G's profitability. While such a social media crisis "might look bad on the outside", only when financial results emerge will the industry know if the company really "lost" the Chinese market.
How can D&G rebuild its image?
Similarly, Tarun Deo, managing director Singapore and SEA at Golin said that an "edgy brand" such as D&G operates on the margin and controversies are bound to happen. The current issue, he said, is subjective as some consumers will like the designs while some will not.
Referencing the recent Gillette ad that garnered mixed comments from various groups of people, Deo said that a brand will never be able to please people all the time. For D&G, Deo added that the launch of the collection was not the issue but rather, the "elasticity" factor where brands need to toggle between being edgy and prudent.
There is a boundary even for brands operating on the edge. Sometimes it’s prudent to be on the safer side of that line.
Meanwhile, Lars Voedisch, managing director, PRecious Communications said the current situation that D&G landed itself in requires a rebuilding where the brand would need to actively acknowledge its mistakes, emphasise on empathy for the situation caused, and build trust by genuinely engaging with Chinese people. This could be through collaboration with local designers or sustainability initiatives and impactful charity activities that go beyond marketing stunts, Voedisch said.
He added that D&G could also engage journalists, influencers and celebrities individually to rebuild rapport, which will in turn help re-engage consumers. This strategy should include the option to directly interact with the founders for real, genuine conversations and not just corporate presentations.
The brand has to show that it is truly interested in better understanding the Chinese consumers instead of just looking at it as a market.
While the Chinese luxury market is too lucrative to simply forgo and it is never soon enough for communications teams embark on damage control, Voedisch said that changing sentiment and rebuilding trust will take time.