Dior has become the latest major brand to inflict damage upon itself in China last week after it revealed a map of the nation that did not include Taiwan. Despite apologizing on Chinese social media, experts suggest that the brand must issue a global statement, or risk being boycotted by Chinese consumers.
Last week Dior presented a workshop at Zhejiang Gongshang University, showing a map that did not feature Taiwan. When a student in the audience questioned the missing feature the presenter stated that Taiwan was too small to be seen on the map. However, the student then pointed out that Hainan, which is much smaller than Taiwan, was featured.
Within 12 hours a video of the episode had been viewed over 1 million times on Weibo resulting in more than 3,000 comments. The mistake by Dior caused outrage among young netizens who are growing increasingly sensitive to the escalating series of cultural and geographic faux pas committed by Western brands.
Dior posted an apology on Weibo within hours, stating they are “deeply sorry for the incident where the wrong description and wrong explanation were made by human resources staff in the campus event.” Dior also claimed that the incident was the fault of an individual employee and did not reflect the views of the company. This has not stopped the spread of the story on Chinese social media, but for the moment seems to have halted what could have become a much bigger crisis.
However, so far, Dior has not chosen to issue a global apology on Western channels, which could cause the incident to spiral if Chinese consumers deem the apology insincere. “When a crisis arises, companies must be fast and take full liability, and there should be no attempt to make excuses or hide behind a veil of legalese,” says Domenica Di Lieto, CEO of Chinese Marketing Consultancy Emerging Communications. “An apology must be broadcast on all Western social media, as well as Chinese. Not addressing the issue on global channels is viewed as disingenuous. Chinese consumers expect a sincere apology to be replicated everywhere as a sign of respect to the global Chinese community.”
Various Western brands have suffered from major losses in sales in China after making cultural or political errors. Noticeably, Dolce and Gabbana has seen its sales almost entirely wiped out in its largest market after its costly mistake involving a promotional video showing a Chinese model clumsily trying to eat pizza with chopsticks, along with a delayed, half-hearted apology to fans. Despite other brands suffering significant losses in sales due to political faux pas, those who apologize immediately tend to be offered a second chance by Chinese consumers.
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Versace has also come under fire in recent weeks, after identifying Hong Kong as a separate country to China on a t-shirt. However, perhaps learning from the Dolce & Gabbana controversy last year, Versace reacted quickly, issuing an apology on Weibo roughly 12 minutes after the story broke. Nonetheless, netizens still complained about the absence of apologies on Western social media. Shortly after, the brand’s founder, Donatella Versace, also issued an apology on Versace’s various social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
So why do these faux pas keep occurring? According to Di Lieto, the answer is simple. “Companies to various degrees are still thinking with a Western mindset and expecting whatever works in other countries to be more or less suitable in China. If senior executives and anyone within companies involved in communication, design, and distribution in China cannot adopt a Chinese mindset, then they need to appointment those that can reliably oversee those processes. Without it, mistakes will happen, and they will be costly. This Dior incident highlights the real danger of not localizing assets. It is also important to get communications content right by having an intimate knowledge of the psychology of the audience. This requires the experience of living in China and speaking the language fluently, as well as being well-practiced in crisis management.”