Last month we saw one of the world’s leading high fashion brands – Dolce & Gabbana – fall out of favour with the superpower that is China. This fall out is even more relevant in view of the fact that Chinese consumers spend over $7 billion each year on luxury goods, according to the consultancy McKinsey. The fiasco is quickly turning into a case study of why it is so important to take the time to properly understand your multicultural audience and craft culturally relevant and respectful content when marketing to them.
A quick synopsis
Dolce & Gabbana were set to hold the biggest fashion show, ‘The Great Show’ in Shanghai on November 21. To promote the upcoming show, D&G posted three video clips on Instagram titled ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ depicting an Asian model struggling to eat certain Italian foods such as pizza, pasta and cannoli with chopsticks. The campaign received negative backlash on Chinese social media platform Weibo which prompted the hashtag #BoycottDolce and the video eventually being taken down.
The situation worsened when founder Stefano Gabbana’s account posted a series of insulting messages on Instagram. D&G claimed the account had been hacked and the messages were not his, but the damage had already been done with many celebrities and major e-commerce platforms stepping away from the brand. Chinese e-commerce sites including Alibaba, JD.com Inc, Secoo and Kaola have removed the luxury brand’s products and listings. Luxury online sellers such as Yoox Net-a-Porter have also removed the brand from their Chinese-language site. (QZ)
In an effort to quell the backlash, founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana posted an apology video on YouTube. However, the video has not been well received by the intended audience and they have thus far failed to rebuild their brand with the world’s leading luxury goods market. Further, their fashion show was cancelled amid the negative backlash.
So, what went wrong?
In a nutshell – stereotyping and cultural insensitivity.
They failed to understand the Chinese audience who are highly aspirational and culturally very proud. The messages in the ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ series appeared to be mocking Chinese as backward and uncultured.
The business of Chinese luxury
Deloitte research shows that the Chinese luxury consumers represent a high proportion of the global luxury market and the rapid rise of a more affluent and fashion-savvy middle class is bolstering luxury consumption. China is one of the leading countries, thanks to the rising purchasing power of young millennials and Generation Z.
Chinese nationals – both in China and around the world – love luxury. This graph shows the share of Global Luxury Spending in 2017
Image Source: TheAtlas
China is one of the world’s most important luxury markets globally, with Chinese consumers expected to account for nearly half of the global luxury market by 2025. (The Drum)
Michael Kors wins with the Chinese luxury consumer
Michael Kors is a great example of a luxury brand embracing modern marketing methods and targeting the Chinese audiences in social media platforms that they use in their everyday lives – in an authentic and culturally respectful manner. Michael Kors leads in many Chinese social media platforms – using both online and offline methods in marketing. The fashion label ran a Hashtag Challenge campaign on popular social media app Douyin (TikTok) where they featured three fashion influencers as brand ambassadors to post a 15 second video of them cat walking. The clips were streamed over 5 million times, with 30,000 users posting their own 15-second catwalk videos using the hashtag.
Michael Kors social media competition on Douyin
Image Source: Luxion
5 steps to success
Brands looking to tap into the enormous spending power of Chinese luxury consumers need to become familiar with the cultural distinctions that could make or break your interactions with Chinese consumers. Here are my five tips to success:
1. Take the time to understand the target audience for your brand.
What do they love? What do they aspire to? What do they value? How do they perceive themselves? These are some of the questions that need to be asked and answered to set you on the right track.
2. Understand the importance of relationships.
Relationships are everything in China when it comes to business. They call it guanxi (关系) which means having personal trust and a strong relationship. Building relationships takes time but once there is a trust built, then these audiences move quickly on the business front.
3. Make sure you have e-commerce opportunities and leverage social media.
With in-language e-commerce web content and relevant, targeted products, brands can get ahead of competitors who have an ‘all-in’ marketing strategy without anything specific for Chinese consumers. Social media applications like WeChat are imperative for Chinese and should not be left out of any strategy targeting the Chinese audiences. WeChat is now the most popular mobile app with over 1 billion active users.
4. Don’t forget culturally relevant festivals and dates.
Chinese are deeply culturally rooted and connected to the trends of their home land – whether they are in China or abroad. Singles’ Day, the leading Chinese shopping holiday, and other dates provide immense opportunity.
5. Tap into the power of influencers and KOLs.
Chinese are highly aspirational and bringing influencers on board can provide your brand great exposure and increase perceptions of authenticity.
With 15 years of experience, MultiConnexions is the largest independent insights-led multicultural marketing agency in Australia. We’re built on relationships and fueled by audience and cultural insights which helps us build brands and new growth markets for Australian companies.
For more information on creating culturally relevant messaging for the Chinese diaspora, contact MultiConnexions today.
This blog was written by Diksha Lepcha, MultiConnexions’ Head of Studio and Creative Services.