As highlighted in our previous post, fashion powerhouse D&G had a serious ’cultural malfunction’ in China during the week that marquee event, ’The Great Show,’ was supposed to be held in Shanghai. An ill-fated advertising campaign and subsequent inflammatory comments on social media, enraged the Chinese nation as ecommerce giants such as Alibaba and JD removed D&G items from their digital platforms in the wake of a mass boycott of the embattled brand. It also forced a grovelling apology from Messers Dolce and Gabbana as they sought forgiveness for failing to understand Chinese culture and vowing to never forget the lesson they have learned.
I wonder what lesson it is that they learned from this PR nightmare that will end up costing them billions? Many, no doubt!
Hopefully one of the lessons they learned is this: don’t offend a billion-plus people! I can’t imagine the team at D&G deliberately planned to disrespect a nation with over a billion patriotic (爱国) citizens, but that’s what ended up happening. What D&G did not understand was how deep the people’s love for their nation runs and how by caricaturing antiquated stereotypes, albeit an attempt at humor, made China lose face (丢脸) and furthermore failed to recognise the powerful, modern, advanced, and savvy nation they have become. Sure they will voice their own concerns and frustrations about their country, but that is as insiders and especially because they love their country. However, when someone from the outside criticizes or is perceived to look down on (看不起) them, they will unite as one to defend the honor of their nation.
This highlights a few cultural dimensions that are at play here. Firstly, honor vs shame.Generally speaking, China is a society that highly values the building up of honor. Bringing shame upon them or making them lose face is the opposite of the building up of honor and therefore cuts deeply especially if it is played out on the global stage. Associated with this is a high power-distance (hierarchical) mentality, where poking fun at a powerful nation is considered inappropriate and offensive.
However, I think that the most fascinating aspect of this situation is how collectivism plays out. The collective outpouring of outrage is probably expected and if it were another country there would likely be a similar reaction. However that this outrage led to a massive boycott of D&G goods across all physical and virtual shopfronts and the cancellation of the biggest fashion show in China, as model after model, celebrity after celebrity refused to attend, shows how collectivist this society is – how concerned the people are for the well being of the group (in this case, the country) more so than the individual. That they could pull this off virtually overnight just reinforces how powerful a phenomenon this is (and also how savvy and advanced they really are)!
This highly dynamic cultural dimension of collectivism is a particularly sharp double-edged sword of opportunity and threat: if you play it right many will love you, but if you get it wrong it could end up costing you big time, often in an instant.
Just ask D&G.
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