Dolce & Gabbana Faces Backlash for Cultural Insensitivity

Recent social media ads aimed at the Chinese were denounced as racist.

Posted Nov 27, 2018

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Source: Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana is facing a billion dollar backlash from China after the brand posted video clips on Instagram mocking a Chinese woman struggling to eat pizza, spaghetti, and other Italian foods with her chopsticks.

In addition to the culturally insensitive ad, a screenshot surfaced that purported to show Stefano Gabbana's Instagram account using five smiling poo emojis to describe China as a pile of excrement. Gabbana's team denied that he posted the remarks, stating that his account had been hacked.

The founders created an online video apology where they stated, “We will never forget this experience and it will certainly never happen again. We will respect the Chinese culture in every way possible. From the bottom of our hearts, we ask for forgiveness.” The video finished with the duo saying “Sorry” in Chinese.

The apology was met with scorn and derision. "They're bowing their precious heads to the renminbi (yuan) then," one Weibo user commented on the apology post. In addition, the Italian fashion house's products disappeared from multiple Chinese e-commerce platforms, fashion shows featuring its brand were canceled and scores of Chinese are even burning their once beloved Dolce & Gabbana products.

The New York Times reported that Chinese writer Xiang Kai had joined a growing social media protest, proudly burning over $20,000 worth of Dolce garb. As Kai said, “Some people say you’ve wasted a lot of money. I’m willing to waste this money for the nation’s dignity.”

As a Chinese-American psychotherapist who specializes in multicultural issues, what strikes me about this ad campaign is two-fold. First is the global issue of how Asians can still be mocked and made fun of by the mainstream in the 21st century. The other is how Dolce & Gabbana's marketing team had the gall to release these ads without giving test audiences or focus groups a chance to weigh in. Any Asian person will tell you that mocking them in any manner is disrespectful and would have given the founders pause.

The ad campaign ironically was aimed to court more Chinese at their products and the fashion house even planned a social campaign dubbed #DGLovesChina, which was to culminate in an extravagant Shanghai fashion show featuring around 300 models. What Dolce & Gabbana is learning is that China is not returning the love.

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