Recently, the Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana left a negative impression in the minds of ordinary Chinese people. Not only was D&G accused of racism for its "Eating with Chopsticks" online advertising campaign, but designer Stefan Gabbana made derogatory remarks directed toward China and Chinese people in direct messages on social media. When word about the incident got out, it triggered huge online backlash, and many Chinese celebrities also pulled out of the high-profile fashion show in Shanghai before it was due to start.
The founders of D&G posted an official apology video on China's Twitter-like Weibo (Photo/screenshot of the video)
What upset the public even more is how it went from really bad to even worse. From a controversial advertising campaign to publicly insulting China, from claiming its accounts had been hacked to saying that the cancellation of its show in Shanghai was "unfortunate," D&G made itself a target for criticism. Just last week, the founders of D&G posted an official apology on China's Twitter-like Weibo. In the video, they issued their "deepest apologies" to all Chinese people, said they will never forget the lessons of this experience, and promised that this sort of thing will never happen again. They ended the video by saying "sorry" in Mandarin.
It is ironic that an online advertising campaign which claimed to "love China" turned into shouting abuse at Chinese people, calling China an "ignorant dirty smelling mafia." Estelle Chen, a model who withdrew from the fashion show, responded as follows: "You don't love China, you love money." If you try to make money from Chinese people with one hand while insulting them with the other, you will find yourself in a heap of trouble.
According to a 2017 McKinsey report on the global luxury market, Chinese luxury consumers account for over half a trillion yuan ($72 billion) in annual spending, representing almost a third of the global luxury consumption. It is expected that Chinese consumers will account for 44 percent of the total global market by 2025. From a business point of view, Chinese people like high-quality products at the lowest price point and pursue a better quality of life. This makes the Chinese market a "darling" in the eyes of many foreign companies. However, transnational trade is far more complex than a simple business transaction, as there are important economic, political, diplomatic, and cultural aspects to consider. Being sincere and respectful, having a mutually beneficial and win-win attitude, understanding China and the people of China, and abiding by Chinese laws and respecting the national feelings of Chinese people are the keys to success in the Chinese market.
As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded at a regular press conference last week, ordinary Chinese people are the best source of information on this issue. From Mercedes-Benz's online ad that quoted the Dalai Lama to the racist skit by the Swedish television program Svenska Nyheter (Swedish News) and now the D&G incident, it is always ordinary Chinese people who are injured in these storms. Whether it stems from ignorance or arrogance or whether it is due to negligence or smear, these offensive acts forget the fact that Chinese civilization stretches back thousands of years. They have earned the dislike of a country that makes up roughly 20 percent of the total world population, and what we are seeing is that as China moves closer center stage in the world, more and more Chinese are standing up to defend their national narrative and let the real voice of China resound across the world.
This is not the first time that D&G has come under fire in China on social media for an advertising campaign gone wrong—nor is D&G the first foreign company that has offended the people of China. However, this latest incident for D&G shows no sign of abating, putting a large question mark over the future of D&G in the Chinese luxury market. It remains to be seen whether the Italian luxury brand will recover after the mess it made in China, but there is a lesson to be learned here for companies that want to do business in China and win over Chinese consumers. That is, companies that want to take part in the lucrative Chinese market, like D&G, should understand that Chinese people welcome companies that understand and respect China with open arms, but reject those that insult and disrespect the people of China for the simple reason that China is the most lavish and cherished luxury the Chinese people have.
D&G only has itself to blame for this disaster.