Dolce & Gabbana just had a marketing nightmare on Instagram: It offended customers, celebrities and state-owned media in one of its biggest markets — China.
The Italian fashion powerhouse came under fire after posting videos in its latest “DG Loves China” campaign to promote a fashion show in China on Instagram and Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. The videos were meant to pay tribute to the country, but they were widely perceived as racist, as they feature a young Chinese model using chopsticks and having trouble eating Italian food such as pizza, pasta and an oversized cannoli.
“We’re going to show you how to use this stick-shaped cutlery to eat your great traditional pizza margherita,” the narrator says in one video, referring to chopsticks, which are a Chinese invention. The name of the brand is also comically mispronounced in the video as “dos,” a common mistake people in China make. (The right way to say it is “dōlCHā.”)
Social media users in China labeled the video stereotypical, racist and disrespectful to Asian females and Chinese culture. Under pressure, Dolce & Gabbana removed it from its Weibo and Instagram accounts. Most Chinese netizens don’t have access to Instagram due to internet censorship.
But the drama didn’t end there. In a direct message on Instagram, D&G co-founder Stefano Gabbana appears to refer to China by using the pile of poo emoji and branding the country as “Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia,” and claiming that Chinese people eat dogs. Gabbana soon claimed the person in the Instagram message wasn’t him and later the brand released a statement claiming that both of its Instagram accounts had been hacked.
The fashion show scheduled on Wednesday night never happened. Models and celebrities in China decided to pull out from the show and some even threatened a boycott the scandalous videos and posts. The state-owned media criticized D&G as “schizophrenia”— who “wants to make money in China but don’t respect consumers.”
In a statement, D&G said the show in China had been rescheduled but gave no further details. On Friday, D&G co-founders released a video on social media apologizing for the videos and Instagram messages.
Brands have been learning their lesson the hard way when they market to consumers in China, a growing market in which consumers vow to vote with their wallets. It remains to be seen what impact the controversy could have on the fashion brand’s business. According to a Bain report in June, Chinese consumers contribute an estimated 33 percent to global luxury spending — a share that is likely to rise to 46% by 2025.
This article was updated to include D&G response. It was originally published on Wednesday, November 21, 2018.
Krystal Hu covers technology and economics for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.