Doing it for the culture: Marketing and P.C culture

The recent Dolce and Gabbana and M&S ads controversy shows people are becoming more “woke” and are calling anything that is politically incorrect.

With a generation that is outspoken and socially aware, millennials are social warriors. It is even easier than before to share opinions via social media and have it spread like wildfire. This power has enabled millennials to speak up about unacceptable behaviour.

Case in point is Dolce and Gabbana (D&G). In mid-November, the Italian luxury fashion brand posted three short videos on Weibo, a Chinese social media network,  to promote its upcoming Shanghai runway extravaganza.

The videos show an Asian woman dressed in Dolce and Gabbana attempting to eat pizza, spaghetti, and cannoli. A male Mandarin-speaker says, “Welcome to the first episode of ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ by Dolce & Gabbana”, which is pronounced incorrectly. The voice instructs the woman how to “properly” eat the Italian dishes.

The videos sparked national outrage as it was deemed as racist. Critics bashed the ad use outdated and stereotypical items such as lanterns and Chinese couplets in the clips. The company removed the videos from Chinese social media within 24 hours of posting them. The ad campaign is now banned on Chinese social media.

Read more:

Dolce & Gabbana’s latest drama, the most exciting episode: “Messed up with Chinese”

Then there is the of Marks and Spencer (M&S). M&S had ‘fancy little knickers’ for women alongside dapper ‘outfits to impress’ for men in a Nottingham store display. Critics deemed it sexist while supporters dubbed people for being “snowflakes”.

Another window display at the same Nottingham store is aimed at women and suggests they, too, must have “outfits to impress”.

In a statement, M&S responded: “We’ve highlighted one combination in our windows, which are part of a wider campaign that features a large variety of must-have Christmas moments, from David Gandy washing up in an M&S suit through to families snuggling up in our matching PJs.”

Marketing to the PC Masses

The P.C culture has affected marketing as consumers are not passive and keep brands accountable.  Darrell Kofkin, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for the undergraduate marketing degrees at University of Westminster, says that “true marketing in a way that adds values to their experience and their life.”

“I think any brand today has to be clear that it has to go through a process of managing against risks,” Kofkin said.

Big brands may undertake large focus to see the perspective a campaign may receive. Another tool is social media: “Many brands will be taping into understanding what their consumers are thinking each and every day.  So with social media now, there is continual engagement with their customers which couldn’t happen in the past.”

Kofkin sees this change in marketing as a sign of the time:  “The world has moved on. Perhaps something that was acceptable in the 60s, 70s, or 80s is not acceptable in 2018 and that’s about brands evolving with the time to ensure they are continually in touch with their customers.”   

Although it makes brands accountable, it can make marketing for a brand harder. Bold ads make an impression on consumers and an elevate a brand’s image. United Colors of Benetton during the 1980s changed the focus of their ads to be more provocative and focusing on world issues. The most shocking was an image of 33-year-old David Kirby dying from AIDS. The ad received complaints to the British Advertising Standards Authority and some protested against the high street brand.


In the end, the picture raised awareness about the AIDS crisis and gave a face to the illness. United Colors of Benetton shows that brands can be provocative to change norms and cause progression in society.  

Sometimes trying not to “play it safe” pays off. 

Words by Earyel Bowleg | Subbing: Teodora Agarici

Photo Credit: Graham Richardson (Flickr)

For more on PC culture:

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