Dolce & Gabbana: From one PR disaster to the next

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Director [email protected]

It is said that a week is a long time in politics, but in the world of fashion it can seem an eternity. Especially if your name happens to be Domenico Dolce or Stefano Gabbana.

Dolce and Gabbana (D&G) are to luxury fashion design what Lennon and McCartney are to music – they are icons. But being an icon or a leader in any market comes with responsibility – both corporate and personal, and last week the Italian duo not only over-stepped the mark from an ethical perspective, they may well have caused long term irreparable damage to the D&G brand itself.

What happened?

The storm started last week when the pair were interview by Italian magazine, Panorama. In it, they declared their opposition to gay couples adopting children or using IVF. Gabbana said, “I call children of chemistry synthetic children: Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalogue.”

He added, “The family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”

Their comments sparked a boycott campaign by Elton John and Glee executive producer Ryan Murphy, not least because Messrs Dolce and Gabbana are themselves gay too. Using the hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana, Elton John took to social media (Instagram in this case) on 14th March to vent his fury over the comments:

Dolce & Gabbana Elton John ClearlyPR

 

How did D&G respond?

Not very well. John’s comments met with silence at first before Gabbana posted an initial reply, which accused the singer of being a ‘fascist’:

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 22.33.58

A further two days passed before anything resembling a public statement was issued by the pair. First, Gabbana attempted to dampen criticism by suggesting the pair’s comments were taken out of context. He said: “We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it. We talked about our way of seeing reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices.”

Then, playing the ‘in my day’ card, Dolce added:

Gabbana

 

Was that the end of it?

Oh no, the public have the bit between their teeth now.

Just when they thought it would be safe to walk down the high street again, D&G faced more controversy – this time from their past. Publicist, New York Times bestselling author, and America’s Next Top Model judge Kelly Cutrone posted an advert on Twitter that was banned in the US in 2007 after it was determined by the courts that it ‘offended the dignity of the woman’.

Dolce & Gabanna ClearlyPR

The advert depicted a group sex scene and after it was subsequently banned in Spain, D&G referred to the Spanish as being “a bit backward”. Cutrone, incensed by the pair’s comments over IVF and their much-publicised anti same-sex marriage stance, took to Twitter, arguing: “I guess simulating gang bangs are fine – but IVF and same sex marriage are not”. The post went viral and only added to the anti-D&G sentiment that had been gaining momentum.

How could this situation been handled?

Whilst every crisis is different, there are a number of important steps that must be taken to effectively manage that crisis.

In the case of D&G, it would appear that not only had Messrs Dolce and Gabbana failed to be effectively briefed and prepped ahead of their interview of Panorama, they allowed Mr Gabbana to be the veritable loose canon and go off plan – if there was a plan at all.

So what should have been done?

  1. Appoint a media spokesperson: Decide who will act as the mouthpiece of the organisation and agree that they alone will be responsible for any media commentary – social, broadcast, print.
  2. Respond: Plan and prepare an effective response that seeks to demonstrate an understanding of the criticism and is not – as was the case here – someone on the defensive.
  3. Time the response: Knee-jerk reactions, as demonstrated by Gabbana’s ‘fascist’ comment, often back-fire. Agree the stance to be taken and make sure those that matter know what should be said and more importantly, what they should avoid saying.
  4. Assume the worst possible outcome: Seek sound PR and legal advice – get your facts straight and ensure your internal teams know the company’s response.
  5. Prepare for a second wave of attack: Look to see if there are any other skeletons that could come out of the closet that could damage the brand or reputation.
  6. Tell it first, tell it fast: Establish the truth; decide how the story should be told and don’t allow it to seep out bit by ever-increasingly-damaging bit.
  7. Say sorry: Say it often – the ‘No comment’ response can be more damaging.

At time of writing, D&G’s Twitter account has remained dormant since the day of Elton John launched the #BoycottDolceGabbana campaign. Emotional response can be damaging to your brand, but silence can kill it dead.

 

 

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