Besides the condescending tone, the script is also laden with sexual innuendo, with lines like, “Do you think it’s still too big?” referring to the giant Sicilian cannolo. In all the videos, the model looks confused and clumsy about having to eat the ridiculously oversized Italian dishes using nothing but chopsticks. She seems to be also portrayed as the stereotypical shy Oriental woman, giggling in embarrassment as she is mansplained about how to use chopsticks.
When the videos were posted on Chinese social media Weibo, they immediately drew the fury of Chinese netizens. There were calls to boycott the brand for insulting Chinese culture. Social media users filmed themselves destroying D&G products. Hundreds of Chinese actors and models who were scheduled to appear at The Great Show pulled out of the event. D&G had to cancel the show just days before it was to go live.
Real world consequences of branding SNAFUs
The online fury had real-world consequences. Almost immediately , D&G’s online sales channels in China collapsed with major Chinese e-commerce sites de-listing D&G products. The brand has also closed more than 10 of its 58 boutiques in China.
Zhang Ziyi announced that she would never buy or wear the brand again. More than a dozen D&G brand ambassadors for the Asia Pacific region cancelled their endorsement contracts with D&G. The anger continued even years later. In 2021, Hong Kong pop singer Karen Mok came under fire from social media users for wearing a D&G cloak in a music video for her new song, forcing Mok and her studio to apologise for the oversight.
This public response only serves to fuel fear in any consumer who may be thinking of forgiving the brand and buying their products again. It is certainly going to be a long and uphill effort for D&G to regain the trust – and business – of it’s Chinese customers.
What this tells us about branding
While D&G may have thought this was a clever portrayal of how 2 cultures come together, audiences disagreed. The backlash was swift and the after effects are still being felt today.
We live in a world where information is shared at the speed of a finger flick. People’s experiences and opinions about brands can be reshared and go viral within hours, reaching hundreds or even millions of eyeballs in at a time. And compared to brands’ carefully-crafted and targeted messages, user stories can go viral and can be created quickly and for free.
While not many brands will fail as spectacularly as D&G, I see companies’ brand messages failing in a very mundane manner – being ignored by audiences. And in many ways, I think that is worse than having a big fail. At least when you have a big fail, you will be remembered by audiences.
But neither failing spectacularly once or being ignored regularly is something we want to see happening with our branding efforts.
Branding that works
As Ted Rubin explains it, in this social media age, we need to consider more than ROI to include Return on Relationship (ROR). ROR looks at the value that a brand accrues over time because a relationship had been nurtured with audiences. These relationships result in intangible benefits for the brand, such as loyalty, recommendations, social sharing and such. These are tremendous benefits for a brand’s bottom line.
I had written before about how myBurgerLab experienced the value of ROR during its toughest times. If a brand that did not have a strong relationship with its stakeholders, it will just fall flat if they tried to do what myBurgerLab did. Worse, it may turn people against the brand.
A brand is built in what I call the 3Ps process – Proposition, Perception and Position.
The 3Ps of Brand building
Proposition is when you are presenting your brand values and message to the market. You can propose anything that you want – the image you want to project, the values that you stand for, the messages that you want to send. Many companies make the mistake of assuming that when they send their messages into the market, they are building their brand.
At this stage, that’s all the brand is doing – making a proposal to audiences. You are not yet convincing anyone of anything. Whether the audience agrees with you or even cares is an entire matter altogether. That’s when we need to move to the next stage.
When you are provide your customers with consistent experiences, then the market will start to form a Perception of you. Now these experiences may or may not reflect the values proposed by your brand. These experiences reflect how your company really functions. In order for your audiences to start remembering the right things about your brand, your company has to provide them consistent experiences that are in line with your brand Proposition.
And this has to happen across every touch point – your website, your product, your sales process, your customer service, etc. And it’s not only the market facing functions, it involves all the back end functions that ultimately have an effect on the front end. For example, the efficiency of your admin and accounts departments affects your customer’s refund claims experience.
Then over time, as more and more people’s perception of your brand is formed, you become known in the market. That is the position you have created for yourself among your stakleholders. Again, this Position may or may not reflect the brand values you propose. It is formed by people’s experience of how your company really functions.
Ignore this process at your peril
Many companies assume that if they just Propose their brand values to the market, that would be the Perception they are creating and the Position they are occupying. That is far from the truth.
Our brand is never what we think or say it is, it is always about what our audience and market think it is. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, rightly said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room.”
To ensure you have higher chances of branding success, you need to ensure that you get these fundamentals right. And the most fundamental truth about branding that works is NOT about convincing your audience about how great you are.
It’s all about demonstrating consistently that you are relevant to them in ways that they care about.
It seems that you can never know enough about branding.There is a good array of articles on branding and marketing in this super learning app called Necole. Watch this video to learn more about this intelligent app.