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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

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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

Why Staged Street Modeling Is All the Rage in China

Manya Koetse

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It’s one of the most popular trends on Chinese social media — people being photographed on the street.

What’s on Weibo’s Manya Koetse contributed to this CGTN report by Frances Kuo.

Check out the video or read more about this phenomenon in our feature article here.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 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

Faking Street Photography: Why Staged “Street Snaps” Are All the Rage in China

Staged street photography is the latest “15 minutes of fame” trend on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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It looks as if they are spontaneously photographed or filmed by one of China’s many street photographers, but it is actually staged. Chinese online influencers – or the companies behind them – are using street photography as part of their social media strategy. And then there are those who are mocking them.

Recently a new trend has popped up on Chinese social media: people posting short videos on their accounts that create the impression that they are being spotted by street fashion photographers. Some look at the camera in a shy way, others turn away, then there are those who smile and cheekily stick out their tongue at the camera.

Although it may appear to be all spontaneous, these people – mostly women – are actually not randomly being caught on camera by one of China’s many street fashion photographers in trendy neighborhoods. They have organized this ‘fashion shoot’ themselves, often showing off their funny poses and special moves, from backward flips to splits, to attract more attention (see example in video embedded below).

In doing so, these self-made models are gaining more fans on their Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, or WeChat accounts, and are turning their social media apps into their very own stage.

 

Street Photography in Sanlitun

 

The real street photography trend has been ongoing in China for years, near trendy areas such as Hangzhou’s Yintai shopping mall, or Chengdu’s Taikoo Li.

One place that is especially known for its many street photographers is Beijing’s see-and-be-seen Sanlitun area, where photographers have since long been gathering around the Apple or Uniqlo stores with their big lens cameras to capture people walking by and their trendy fashion.

A few years ago, Thatsmag featured an article discussing this phenomenon, asking: “Who are these guys and what are they doing with their photos?”

Author Dominique Wong found that many of these people are older men, amateur photographers, who are simply snapping photos of attractive, fashionable, and unique-looking people as their hobby.

But there are also those who are working for street fashion blogs or style magazines such as P1, and are actually making money with their street snaps capturing China’s latest fashion trends.

Image by 新浪博客

People featured in these street snaps can sometimes go viral and become internet celebrities (网红). One of China’s most famous examples of a street photographed internet celebrity is “Brother Sharp.”

‘Brother Sharp’ became an online hit in 2009 (image via Chinasmack).

It’s been ten years since “Brother Sharp” (犀利哥), a homeless man from Ningbo, became an online hit in China for his fashionable and handsome appearance, after his street snap went trending on the Chinese internet.

 

Staged Street Scenes

 

But what if nobody’s snapping your pics and you want to go viral with your “Oh, I am being spotted by street fashion photographers” video? By setting up their own “street snap” shoots, online influencers take matters into their own hands.

It is not just individuals who are setting up these shoots; there are also companies and brands that do so in order to make their (fashion) products more famous. According to People’s Daily, in Hangzhou alone, there are over 200 photographers for such “street snaps” and hundreds of thousands of models for such “performances.”

The photographers can, supposedly, earn about 20,000 to 30,000 yuan ($2,890-$4,335) per day and the models are well paid.

In this way, the “street snap performance” phenomenon is somewhat similar to another trend that especially became apparent in China around 2015-2016, namely that of ‘bystander videos’ capturing a public scene. Although these videos seem to be real, there are actually staged.

One such example happened in 2017 when a video went viral of a young woman being scolded on a Beijing subway for wearing a revealing cosplay outfit.

The story attracted much attention on social media at the time, with many netizens siding with the young woman and praising her for responding coolly although the woman was attacking her. Later, the whole scene turned out to be staged with the purpose of generating more attention for the ad of a “cool” food delivery platform behind the older lady.

In 2015, photos of a ‘romantic proposal’ made its rounds on social media when a young man asked his pregnant girlfriend to marry him using over 50 packs of diapers in the shape of a giant heart. One bag of diapers carried a diamond ring inside. It was later said the scene was sponsored by Libero Diapers.

 

Wanghong Economy

 

Both the latest street snap trend and the staged video trend are all part of China’s so-called “Wanghong economy.” Wǎnghóng (网红) is the Chinese term for internet celebrities, KOL (Key Opinion Leader) or ‘influencer.’ Influencer marketing is hot and booming in China: in 2018, the industry was estimated to be worth some $17.16 billion.

Being a wanghong is lucrative business: the more views, clicks, and fans one has, the more profit they can make through e-commerce and online advertising.

Using Chinese KOLs to boost brands can be an attractive option for advertisers, since their social media accounts have a huge fanbase. Prices vary on the amount of fans the ‘influencer’ has. In 2015, for example, the Chinese stylist Xiao P already charged RMB 76,000 ($11,060) for a one-time product mention on his Weibo account (36 million fans).

According to the “KOL budget Calculator” by marketing platform PARKLU, a single sponsored post on the Weibo account of a famous influencer will cost around RMB 60,000 ($8730).

The current staged street snap hype is interesting for various online media businesses in multiple ways. On short video app Douyin, for example, the hugely popular street snap videos come with a link that allows app users to purchase the exact same outfits as the girls in the videos.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an online survey by Tencent found that 54% of college-age respondents had the ambition to become an “online celebrity.”

 

Making Non-Fashion Fashion: The Farm Field as a Catwalk

 

Although becoming an actual online celebrity used to be a far-fetched dream for many Chinese netizens, the latest staged-street-snap trend creates the possibility for people to experience their “15 minutes of fame” online.

Just as in previous online trends such as the Flaunt Your Wealth Challenge or A4 Waist Challenge, you see that many people soon participate in them, and that they are then followed by an “anti-movement” of people making fun of the trend or using it to promote a different social point-of-view.

The 2018 “Flaunt Your Wealth” challenge, for example, in which Chinese influencers shared pictures of themselves falling out of their cars with their expensive possessions all around them, was followed by an Anti-Flaunt Your Wealth movement, in which ordinary people mocked the challenge by showing themselves on the floor with their diplomas, military credentials, painting tools, or study books around them.

In case of the (staged) “Fashion Street Photography” movement, that now has over 103 million views on Weibo (#全国时尚街拍大赏# and #街拍艺术行为大赏#), you can also see that many people have started to mock it.

“I find [this trend] so embarrassing that I want to toss my phone away, yet I can’t help but watch it,” one Weibo user (@十一点半关手机) writes, with others agreeing, saying: “This is all so awkward, it just makes my skin crawl.”

The anti-trend answer to the staged street shoot hype now is that people are also pretending to be doing such a street snap, but ridiculing it by making over-the-top movements, doing it in ‘uncool’ places, wearing basic clothing, or setting up a funny situation (see embedded tweet below).

Some of these short videos show ‘models’ walking in a rural area, pretending to be photographed by a ‘street fashion photographer’ – it’s an anti-trend that’s become a trend in itself (see videos in embedded tweets below).

Although this ‘anti-trend’ is meant in a mocking way, it is sometimes also a form of self-expression for young people for whom the Sanlitun-wannabe-models life is an extravagant and sometimes unattainable one.

They don’t need trendy streets and Chanel bags to pretend to be models: even the farm field can be their catwalk.

In the end, the anti-trend “models” on Chinese social media are arguably much cooler than the influencers pretending to be photographed. Not only do they convey a sense of authenticity, they also have something else that matters the most in order to be truly cool and attractive: a sense of humor.

Also read: From Mountains of Taishan to Faces of Amsterdam – Interview with Street Photographer Jimmy on the Run

Also read: Beijing Close-Up: Photographer Tom Selmon Crosses the Borders of Gender in China

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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