3 Important Lessons that Luxury Brands Can Learn from D&G Chinese Promotional Ad Fiasco

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If you’re following the news about China internet, you probably came across the Dolce & Gabbana advertisement that provoked public outrage.

The luxury brand launched the three short videos in mid-November on Chinese social networking sites like Weibo to promote the “The Great Show,” the brand’s upcoming runway show in Shanghai on November 21.

The video went viral but was also removed from Weibo within the 24 hours of posting them. The “DG Loves China” campaign received hate for trivializing the ancient traditions and culture of China and depicting the women in a racist way.

The Chinese woman was wearing a red sequin D&G dress while attempting to Italian food like pizza, spaghetti, and cannoli. The woman was using chopsticks, and the narrator (male) asked her “is it too huge for you?”

What can luxury brands learn from D&G’s experience?

Videos do tell compelling stories, but if not correctly conceptualized, it may ruin the brand itself.

#1 Be creative but also culturally-sensitive

Be as creative as you can be when conceptualizing a promotional ad suitable for the Chinese audience. However, it’s best to do the homework first and get feedback from local talent—send over the draft or the concept or storyboard to local people and ask if it’s offensive or is culturally insensitive.

If you had a chance to watch the video, even the way the woman held the chopsticks while she cut the pizza, how she was dressed, and the way the male narrator talks to the model is insensitive. The question of the narrator somehow belittles the woman’s ability to eat Italian food using chopsticks. It appears they didn’t spend much time reviewing the scenes or perhaps consulted the matter to local talent.

#2 Use native speakers if you have voice-over projects

We’re not sure if they intended to use a Mandarin speaker in the voiceover that he incorrectly mispronounce on purpose the lines: “Welcome to the first episode of “Eating with Chopsticks by Dolce & Gabbana” as if mocking the Chinese speech.

One commenter from Weibo said, “That’s explicit racism. D&G stereotyping China.”

The choice of voice over talent is crucial when it comes to dubbing and of course, promotional ads. It’s a prerequisite to have voice over skills who are native speakers and fluently speak Mandarin and does not play around on speech or tones that may result in negative feedback from the audience.

#3 Online reputation is crucial – it can make or break your brand

That didn’t take long for D&G to receive “online assassination” that the words “Boycott Dolce” went viral. Although the D&G posted on the official account an apology, the damage has been made and resulted into the canceled runway show, a call out from the state-run-media Xinhua News Agency to all foreign brands to respect the market, and Chinese customers in Italy appeared in the shops of D&G, protested and demanded refunds.

What’s more, e-commerce giants like Alibaba and JD.com removed the D&G products from online stores. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the Lane Crawford, a retailer of D&G goods, halted the sales as customers started returning items.

Your takeaway: As a foreign brand, the most discerning thing to do when launching a campaign is to consult the entire concept with local talent and get feedback. Being knowledgeable with the culture is an edge, and this is something you can’t learn overnight, but rather something to be experienced as you operate your business with partners who know the market well.  

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