Adored and adorned across the globe, high-end fashion is an industry that has made impressive strides in cross-cultural marketing. From celebrating classic cultural designs to highlighting eccentric innovation, haute couture brands like Dolce & Gabbana are able to traverse borders and oceans to appeal to an increasingly international consumer-base.
However with any global business, blunders become an inevitability when cross-cultural sensitivities are not respected – exactly what the Italian luxury brand did towards the end of 2018, and it left their sales figures reeling and their Chinese fans infuriated. What sort of precautions do marketers need to heed when considering cross-cultural marketing? Join Wordsmith to take a closer look…
Celebrating heritage or blatant racism?
Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) had great plans for the Chinese market when they announced their Shanghai runway show in November 2018, titled “The Great Show”. In promotion of the show, a series of three videos were released on Chinese social media network Weibo – depicting an Asian model in a D&G dress struggling to eat huge portions of classic Italian dishes like pizza, spaghetti and cannelloni with a pair of chopsticks.
In addition to the bizarre scenario, Chinese folk music is played in the background while a Putonghua voiceover addresses the viewer and the model. In the first line, the speaker says “Welcome to ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ by Dolce & Gabbana,” where the words and Dolce and Gabbana are seemingly and purposely mispronounced in heavily accented English.
Furthermore, the speaker condescendingly and mockingly instructs the model how to eat these “great” Italian meals using “these small stick-like things” – all while the model is seen giggling. Whether you agree or disagree that the adverts were racist, it’s in bad taste to mock a culture, especially when you’re trying to make a sale... Needless to say, the videos went viral for all the wrong reasons and were taken down within 24 hours of being uploaded.
Adding fuel to the fire, images showing a heated Instagram conversation between model Michele Tranovo and brand designer Stefano Gabbana were posted online – showing Gabbana’s allegedly bigoted attitude towards Chinese culture and the videos’ poor reception. Although D&G later issued a statement saying that Gabbana and the brand’s Instagram accounts were hacked, the damage had been done.
The hashtag #boycottdolce gained immense traction – with multiple celebrities, actors, models and even consumers endingtheir ties with the brand. Despite an official apology video featuring both brand designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana owning up to the marketing mishap, the surplus of negative press attention drove the brand to cancel the Shanghai runway show.
Avoiding the follies of cross-cultural marketing
According to Forbes contributor Rob Fields, culture is defined as the way of life for an entire society, including “codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behaviour and systems of belief.” However, these are all highly volatile elements – a point that most brands often neglect to fully consider.
Red Bull is not like most brands. The Austrian energy drink company’s logo is often seen plastered around athletic events, extreme sports and even video games. Although highly prevalent, sponsorships are not what made the brand internationally revered – rather, it’s their marketing campaigns and events! From establishing the audacious Stratos freefalling project and hosting high-speed air races to organising breakdancing championships and even downhill soap box derby competitions, this bull is seemingly able to overcome cultural boundaries and take a stake in all things adrenaline. But how?
Perhaps the reason why Red Bull’s marketing works so well across a number of unique cultures is because it consistently resonates the core value of freedom. When we partake in sports and thrill seeking activities, we are able to achieve a sense of freedom – a value that is prized and shared across (almost) all cultures.
The most optimal way to get in touch with a culture (both foreign and local) is to immerse yourself within it. In an interview with Forbes, Intel’s Senior Fellow and Vice President of the Corporate Strategy Office Dr. Genevieve Bell provides keen insight onto how she likes to analyse cultures. “I try and maintain a point of view that extends beyond the immediate domain that I work in,” says Dr. Bell. “I watch commercial television because it’s good to know what people are watching. I watch what’s popular and I read trashy magazines… You want to be paying attention to what are the kids AND the grown-ups talking about. What do those conversations look like in the arts and museum community, as well as in the playground and political circles?”
Fields notes that cultural marketing is not about a brand making a major marketing breakthrough (which he dubs “the Oreo moment”), nor is it about “real-time marketing”. “Rather, it’s about being better able to steward your brand,” he says. “To do so, marketers must shift their mindset about culture, paying attention to both the latest trends and the deeper, abiding values that change more slowly.” Done correctly, brands and marketers can better anticipate shifts in consumer values – allowing for better marketing adaptation and targeting.
Taking your brand global can yield immense business opportunities and returns – but it’s important to show a healthy respect for local cultures in your overseas markets. As tempting as it may be to wow overseas audiences with a shocking new narrative (like D&G’s “Eating with Chopsticks” adverts), always ask yourself whether consumers may take offense to your content.
If you’re unsure about your content, professional copywriters with experience in international and cross-cultural marketing can help you steer clear of cultural potholes, and keep you on the track to growth in international sales.