stefano-gabbana-domenico-dolce-portrait credit DG website

Photo: Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana– Dolce & Gabana’s website.

When I look at the backlash of the latest campaign in China by luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana (DG) – with the brand pulled from key retail websites, cancelling hopes for a revenue boost in a country that represents 30% of purchases of luxury goods worldwide – 3 things come to my mind:

  1. Using the same strategy doesn’t yield the same result

The speed and scale with which news can spread through social media, and the ability of the audience to respond instantaneously to content, makes every experience unique. This ability to actively react on social media is a game changer. This interaction could go both ways: amplify the initial effort or turn it into a disaster faster than we can think through an active campaign (#BoycottDolce). And I believe this is why using the same strategy twice could yield different results.

DG is no stranger to provocation. So far, it had managed to avoid fatal setbacks. However, this time around could have been one too many times.

This means that when using the same strategy, a brand might still be better off reviewing it carefully in the new context.

This could have been avoided by thinking through the strategy in a culturally different market, which brings me to the second lesson.

  1. Cultural Differences Matter

DG’s ad was addressing Chinese consumers with an approach perceived as filled with racist stereotypes.

Research about the culture may have allowed the fashion company to anticipate that their provocative approach would not sit well with the Chinese public.

  1. Authenticity Brings Value

An alleged Instagram exchange between Gabbana and Diet Prada, filled with new racist comments, took the uproar to another level.

diet prada

Screen shot from Diet Prada’s Instagram account

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce said on Instagram that their account had been hacked, which was not the type of response desired by the public. The blame made the following comment sound like it was unauthentic: “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.”


Screen shot from DG’s Instagram Account

The anger led to the cancellation of DG fashion show that was scheduled in Shangai. The brand was withdrawn from key Internet sites, and a video apology from DG did not appease the anger.

Perhaps taking responsibility for their actions and coming up with a sincere apology demonstrating accountability would have allowed customers to feel they were taken seriously and valued.

There are no doubt more lessons from this failed campaign, which makes a good candidate for textbooks about social media marketing.

Which lessons do you draw from this backlash?

Does this episode mark a turning point that could lead marketers to review their approach to social media marketing and how far they can go to put their brand on the radar?

Did you follow Dolce & Gabbana’s latest provocation about Chinese culture and its backlash? Here are 3 lessons to draw from DG’s failed campaign: http://bit.ly/2FDQdOa

#DolceGabbana provokes again. This time it backfires with #BoycottDolce. Here are 3 lessons: http://bit.ly/2FDQdOa


  1. Your post has me thinking about how social media has maybe had a hand in accelerating the global push toward respect for individuals and groups. Racist and sexist marketing was commonplace in the West in the 50s and 60s.

    Something I would never had known about pre-internet makes me think twice about the so-called prestige of the D&G brand.

    • Hi Beingoak, I agree that social media reveals a lot more about brands than we could access in the past. That’s an interesting point. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Your post is incredibly interesting! I firstly enjoy how you’ve formatted the blog post! Looking at the issue and having 3 main talk points, made the post clear, concise and an easy read. With a personal large interest in pop culture, I find this issue very relevant! The way in which companies react online- with their customers- after a scandal such as the DG case is crucial in todays society. With online communication becoming the most popular form of communication, the way in which companies or celebrities respond is almost vital in their social media ‘recovery’ marketing plan. Of course the Instagram screenshots, didn’t help the company’s public relations. I also completely agree with you, upfront accountability paired with a sincere apology would have allowed both loyal and future customers to feel they were taken seriously and valued.

  3. Thank you for your comments.

    I guess DG’s mistake was also to rely too much on past experiences and extrapolate and think they could indefinitely provoke with no consequences.

  4. I find this issue interesting in that the D&G incident you discuss is reminiscent of the United Colors of Benetton ads of years past. (https://bit.ly/2uY2qFE)

    I have a thought on this (and I am not sure I agree with myself on this one): if it keeps your company in the news, it’s not always a bad thing. P.T. Barnum once said that “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Oscar Wilde said “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” But what about the retailers that carry these brands? What about the shareholders of these brands? Surely the backlash has an impact on their bottom line and they may not be too excited about this so called “free publicity”. But I wonder if there are any *true* impacts on their profits when all is said and done.


  5. It is a good point, and this is what has happened in the past with DG.
    But when you court a market that is 30% of your sales and your brand is pulled out of the biggest online retail websites, there could be one thing worse than not being talked about: not being able to sell.

    We’ll have to wait and see for the actual impact on the bottom line, of course. But when customers can’t eve access your brand, then that sounds pretty bad.

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