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Overview of the Dolce&Gabbana China Marketing Disaster Through Weibo Hashtags

The D&G China marketing crisis in hashtags.

Manya Koetse

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The controversies surrounding Italian fashion brand D&G in China have been dominating Weibo’s top trending lists this week. Because it’s a somewhat messy affair, we’ll explain the story hashtag by hashtag.

November of 2018 will go down in Dolce & Gabbana history for the China marketing nightmare that has been unfolding over the recent days.

The Italian fashion house, that has been founded in 1985 by designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, is now facing consumer outrage and backlash on Chinese social media. Chinese e-commerce sites have removed Dolce & Gabbana products and Chinese netizens are posting photos of empty D&G stores.

An overview of what has happened over the past week through Weibo hashtags:

 
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18

“DG LOVES CHINA” #DG爱中国#

15,7 MILLION VIEWS – On Sunday, November 18, Dolce & Gabbana posted three videos to social media in a series titled “Eating With Chopsticks” in light of its “DG Loves China” campaign, promoting its upcoming big fashion show in Shanghai that would take place on Wednesday, November 21st.

The brand had been doing quite well in China in the month before. The Digital Crew website wrote in October that D&G had “hit the nail on the right spot” with their recent move to cast Chinese celebrity Dilraba Dilmurat and Chinese stylist Han Huohuo at their Milan fashion show catwalk, receiving praise from Chinese netizens.

Its new video campaign, however, was not received with praise. The videos feature a Chinese-looking model dressed in D&G clothes using chopsticks to eat Italian dishes such as pizza, cannoli, and spaghetti. Unsuccessful at clumsily trying to eat these dishes, a male Chinese voice-over in the video then suggests things such as that the cannoli might be “too big” for the lady, and that she could try by digging in and eating smaller pieces with her chopsticks.

(Watch all clips here on Youtube and judge for yourself.)

The clips were not much appreciated for various reasons. Some Chinese netizens thought the campaign was making fun of Chinese chopsticks, others thought the comment of the Italian bread being “too big” for the Chinese model had a sexist undertone.

Subtitles: “This is perhaps too big for you?” Netizen’s comment: “Seriously?!”

“A disgusting campaign,” some called it.

Meanwhile, English-language media wrote that Dolce & Gabbana’s latest campaign was called “racism” by Chinese. Although the ad was indeed called racist by some Chinese on Weibo, the majority of commenters were mainly upset about the portrayal of chopsticks in the series. The hashtag “D&G Ad” (#DG广告#) received 170 million views.

 
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23

“D&G SUSPECTED OF INSULTING CHINA” #DG涉嫌辱华#

410 MILLION VIEWS – The social media storm snowballed out of control after screenshots of comments attributed to fashion designer Stefano Gabbana went viral on Wednesday, also being reposted by major Chinese state media accounts such as Global Times.

Various Instagram screenshots showed how, from the account of Stefano Gabbana, statements were made about China being a “shit country” and other derogatory remarks.

The screenshots were posted by Instagram user Michaela Phuong Thanh Tranova (@michaelatranova), a fashion business student, although it is still unclear why this Instagram user would have a private Instagram conversation with Stefano Gabbana and whether or not they are acquainted.

The statements went viral on Chinese social media, where they led to waves of criticism and anger, with people defending China and calling for a boycott of D&G.

Amid the allegations, the designer on Wednesday said that his Instagram account had been hacked and posted an image with the words “NOT ME” written across one of Tranova’s screenshots. The company similarly claimed to have been hacked in a statement posted on its official Instagram page. “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China,” the statement read.

 
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21

“DG BIG SHOW CANCELED” #DG大秀取消#

820 MILLION VIEWS – Later on Wednesday, the D&G issue hit the topic trending lists on Weibo, when it was announced that the big Shanghai fashion show was called off.

According to Jing Daily, it was China’s Cultural and Tourism Department that ordered Dolce & Gabbana to cancel the event, just a few hours before it was scheduled to take place and amid reports that Chinese celebrities were canceling their attendance at the show for the fact that the brand was “insulting to China” (辱华).

Photos of an empty D&G fashion show scene were posted on Weibo.

The official D&G account did not mention the reason for the cancelation, nor who ordered it, but just wrote on Weibo: “The fashion show that was planned on November 21st at 20.00 has been rescheduled due to circumstances, we deeply regret any inconvenience caused.”

By now, the online anger about D&G insulting China through its ad and Gabbana’s statements had grown so big, that most people simply wished for the Italian fashion house to “get lost.”

 
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23

“DG USES CHINESE TO APOLOGIZE” #DG用中文道歉#

360 MILLION VIEWS – On Friday afternoon, China time, Dolce and Gabbana released an apology video on its official Weibo account. The video shows Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sitting at a table with grave expressions on their face (see embedded Tweet below).

The two speak in Italian as they say that they “feel very grieved” over what their “statements and actions” have brought about “for Chinese people and their country” over the past few days, and that they hope they can be forgiven for their “misunderstanding of [Chinese] culture.”

They end the video by apologizing in Chinese, saying “duibuqi“.

Before midnight, the video had received more than 166,000 comments and more than half a million shares. Over 100,000 people ‘liked’ the post.

Among the most popular comments, there were those inquiring if Gabbana’s Instagram had been hacked or not, since the video does not mention it. “Were you hacked or not, because if you weren’t, then I won’t accept your apology,” one of the most popular comments said.

 
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23

“Requesting D&G Money Back” #DG柜姐回应退预存金#

160 MILLION VIEWS – Meanwhile, a screenshot of a WeChat conversation between a customer seeking a refund and a representative from Dolce & Gabbana Hangzhou also has gone viral on Chinese social media, ending up in the top ten charts of the day.

The screenshots show that the woman demands back a deposit she paid D&G of 2400 yuan ($346), saying she no longer wants to wear the brand for fear people would “throw sh*t at her.”

D&G Hangzhou then responded to the issue, saying that they would not refund money because of this “temporary crisis.”

“A temporary storm can also turn into a permanent one,” some commenters said.

Whether or not this “temporary” storm will indeed turn into a serious long-term China marketing crisis for D&G is yet to be seen. In the past, Daimler China also found itself at the center of a social media storm in China after using a Dalai Lama quote in its advertisement in March of this year (listen to this BBC news fragment here), which seemingly had little consequences for the brand, as it is still expanding in China.

The Lotte group also faced serious backlash in China in light of the THAAD crisis. The Lotte boycott of 2017 in the end turned out to be critical for the brand’s presence in China, with the group losing $46 million every quarter due to the China situation.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Fashion & Beauty

The ‘Fake Rich’ of Shanghai: Peeking Inside a Wannabe Socialite WeChat Group

A Shanghai fake ‘rich girl WeChat group’ has become the talk of the day after a Chinese blogger went undercover in their bizarre social media circle.

Manya Koetse

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A Shanghai Lady Socialite WeChat Group has become top trending on Chinese social media after a blogger exposed its workings. From splitting the costs for an afternoon high tea at The Ritz to sharing a Gucci pantyhose, these girls are taking the phrase ‘fake it ’til you make it’ a bit too literally.

 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes
 

How to become part of Shanghai’s super-rich social circles? Some people think joining a WeChat group is the way to go.

A Shanghai ‘Female Socialite WeChat Group’ has gone mega trending on Chinese social media today after a blogger went undercover in the group for two weeks, giving netizens a peek inside a world that’s all about faking it. The topic reached over 1.2 billion views on Weibo on Monday.

The Chinese blogger Lizhonger (李中二) invested 500 yuan ($75) and pretended to be a girl in order to become a member of the WeChat group after one of his readers tipped him off about its existence.

The group profiles itself as the ‘Shanghai Female Socialite’ group that is all about “Young / Fashion / Money”. The profile poster states that the WeChat group is a place to share information about (Hermes, Dior, etc) luxury products, to have afternoon tea together, to get to know social media influencers and to share updates on wealthy and eligible bachelors.

Besides a 500 yuan membership fee, new members are required to provide proof of having at least 100,000 yuan ($15,000) in their savings account.

Faking such proof is probably not too difficult; most of the active members of the ‘Shanghai Ladies’ WeChat group appear to be anything but nouveau riche – nor old rich, for that matter.

Lizhonger discovered that instead of being an actual WeChat group for rich girls to talk about their latest Louis Vuitton bags, the group is in fact all about finding ways to appear rich. Part of it is sharing resources and splitting the costs of experiences where these luxury-loving girls can post photos of themselves.

“It turned out to be a high-end version of Pinduoduo,” Lizhonger writes. Pinduoduo, sometimes referred to as ‘the Groupon of China,’ is an interactive group-buying shopping platform that offers quality goods at extremely low prices.

As exposed by Lizhonger, the members of the WeChat group would do things such as sharing the cost for an afternoon high tea at the Ritz-Carlton. The high tea, which is meant for two people, was split among six people, with each person paying 85 yuan ($12.5). The girls then took turns to attend the high tea, with the first girls promising not to touch any of the food so the other girls could still take pictures of it once it was their turn to show up at the Ritz.

Screenshots of the WeChat group, where members agree to share a 2-person high tea at the Ritz with 6 people.

Likewise, the booking costs for a 3000 yuan hotel room at the Ritz was shared among 15 members of the WeChat group, with each person paying 200 yuan ($30).

The price for a room at the glamorous and expensive Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai was shared with no less than 40 people, each person paying 125 yuan ($18) just to go up, take a pic, and share their location on social media.

The madness does not stop there. Lizhonger also exposed how the group members would rent one designer bag with four persons, passing them on to each other to wear on a date with a prospective boyfriend.

Or how about renting a white Ferrari for one day with 60 people? For 100 yuan ($15) per person, each lady got to take a picture to post on social media.

The girls even went as far as sharing the costs for a second-hand Gucci pantyhose, while also discussing how guys driving a BMW or Benz are just not good enough.

One WeChat group can hold a maximum of 500 people. Groups that are popular, such as the one described here, are sometimes split up in multiple groups (A, B, and C) so that more than 500 people can participate.

Since Lizhonger posted his article on WeChat on Sunday, it’s become all the talk on Chinese social media. One post about the topic on Weibo reached over 1,4 million likes.

Although many people laugh about the matter, there are also many who criticize these Shanghai women for pretending to be rich and chasing after money in order to increase their social status in order to find a wealthy husband.

“They are faking their appearances, but actually they are just faking themselves,” some commented.

Others are not surprised that these kinds of groups are popular. “Did you think this was rare? There are so many of these groups!”

Although this group goes to extremes, the fake socialite life is not just a Shanghai thing. Since some years ago, it was reported that influencers in Russia were booking grounded jets for photoshoots. More recently, some influencers in the US were exposed for renting a photo studio made to look like a private plane for their Instagram photos.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Featured image by Yuan Zhe Ma

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

Chinese Social Media Users Stand up Against Body Shaming

Manya Koetse

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Recent photos of famous actress Gong Li that showed her curvier figure have gone viral on Sina Weibo, receiving over 850 million clicks. With Gong Li’s weight gain becoming all the talk on Weibo, the public’s focus on her appearance has sparked an online wave of body positivity posts, with web users rejecting the all-too-common phenomenon of body shaming on Chinese social media.

First, there was the ‘A4 Waist‘ hype, then there was the ‘iPhone6 Legs‘ trend, the ‘belly button backhand,’ and the online challenge of putting coins in your collarbone to show off how thin you are (锁骨放硬币). Over the past five years, China has seen multiple social media trends that propagated a thin figure as the ruling beauty standard.

But now a different kind of trend is hitting Weibo’s hotlists: one that rejects body shaming and promotes the acceptance of a greater diversity in body sizes and shapes in China.

On August 26, Weibo user @_HYIII_ from Shanghai posted several pictures, writing:

Reject body shaming! Why should we all have the same figure? Tall or short, thin or fat, all have their own characteristics. Embrace yourself, and show off your own unique beauty!

The post was soon shared over 900 times, receiving more than 32,000 likes, with the “body shame” phrase soon reaching the top keyword trending list of Sina Weibo.

 

Gong Li Weight Gain

 

The body positivity post by ‘_HYIII_’ is going viral on the same day that the apparent weight gain of Chinese actress Gong Li (巩俐) is attracting major attention on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douyin.

The 54-year-old actress, who is known for starring in famous movies such as Farewell My Concubine, To Live, and Memoirs of a Geisha, was spotted taking a walk with her husband in France on August 24. The photos went viral, with media outlets such as Sina Entertainment noting how Gong Li had become “much rounder” and had put on some “happy fat” (幸福肥).

By now, the hashtag page “Gong Li’s Figure” (#巩俐身材#) has received more than 850 million (!) views on Weibo, with thousands of people commenting on the appearance of the actress. In the comment sections, there were many who lashed out against the focus on Gong Li’s weight gain.

“She just has a regular female body shape. Stop using ‘white / skinny / young’ as the main beauty standard to assess other people,” one commenter said, with another person writing: “Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?!”

 

“Why do you all keep focusing on her figure, did she steal your rice and eat it?”

 

Some people suggested that the COVID19 pandemic might have to do with Gong Li’s weight gain, with others writing: “If she is healthy is what matters, skinny or fat is not the way to assess her beauty.”

What stands out from the discussions flooding social media at this time, is that a majority of web users seem to be fed up with the fact that a skinny body is the common standard of women’s beauty in China today – and that accomplished and talented women such as Gong Li are still judged by the size of their waist.

 

Say No to Body Shaming

 

In light of the controversy surrounding Gong Li’s recent photos and the following discussions, posts on ‘body shaming’ (身材羞辱) are now flooding Weibo, with many Weibo users calling on people to “reject body shaming” (拒绝#body shame#) and to stop imposing strict beauty standards upon Chinese women.

The pressure to be thin, whether it comes from the media or from others within one’s social circle, is very real and can seriously affect one’s self-esteem. Various studies have found an association between body dissatisfaction and social pressure to be thin and body shaming in Chinese adolescents and young adults (Yan et al 2018).

The main message in this recent Weibo grassroots campaign against body shaming, is that there are many ways in which women can be beautiful and that their beauty should not be merely defined by limited views on the ideal weight, height, or skin color.

Over the past decades, women’s beauty ideals have undergone drastic changes in China, where there has been a traditional preference for “round faces” and “plump bodies.” In today’s society, thin bodies, sharp faces, and a pointy chin are usually regarded as the standard of female ideal beauty (Jung 2018, 68). China’s most popular photo apps, such as Meitu or Pitu, often also include features to make one’s face pointier or one’s legs more skinny.

This is not the first time Weibo sees a growing trend of women opposing strict beauty standards. Although the word ‘body shaming’ has not often been included in previous trends, there have been major trends of women opposing popular skinny challenges and even one social media campaign in which young women showed their hairy armpits to trigger discussions on China’s female aesthetics.

Especially in times of a pandemic, many netizens now stress the importance of health: “Skinny or fat, it really doesn’t matter how much you weigh, as long as you’re healthy – that’s what counts.”

Also read:

 

By Manya Koetse

 

References

Jung, Jaehee. 2018. “Young Women’s Perceptions of Traditional and Contemporary Female Beauty Ideals in China.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 47 (1): 56-72.

Yan, Hanyi ; Wu, Yingru ; Oniffrey, Theresa ; Brinkley, Jason ; Zhang, Rui ; Zhang, Xinge ; Wang, Yueqiao ; Chen, Guoxun ; Li, Rui ; Moore, Justin. 2018. “Body Weight Misperception and Its Association with Unhealthy Eating Behaviors among Adolescents in China.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15 (5): 936.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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