Hong Kong- Luxury retailer Dolce & Gabbana is the target of protests online and offline after it was accused of banning locals from shooting photos outside its flagship store in this city's Tsim Sha Tsu neighborhood yet permitted mainland China tourists to take photos.
About 1,000 people from Hong Kong demonstrated last weekend outside the Canton Road store; many more have ranted on its official Facebook and YouTube pages. Critics plan another flash mob protest this weekend.
While some reports have labelled the incident as a "PR disaster," it seems the Italian fashion brand is ignoring the brouhaha unfolding on its social platforms.
The furor erupted when local media reported that a D&G security guard stopped people from Hong Kong from taking pictures in front of its store, yet allowed mainland Chinese tourists to do so.
D&G's recent posts on Facebook have attracted hundreds of comments. Technically, this would indicate a high level of engagement with its more than 3.5 million members on the page but most comments were unrelated to the content of its posts. Instead, Hong Kong Facebookers were swearing at the brand and demanding a public apology.
For instance, D&G wished its fans a happy new year and a fashionable 2012 on Jan. 1, attracting 366 comments. Some examples include:
Andy Poon: "Get the hell out of our land!!! Shame on you. We condemn you. Apologize now when you still can, the protest and the anger will not stop until we have your apology!"
Percy Irene: "Don't buy D&G!!! Get out of Hong Kong!!!"
Other comments range from calling the company "racist" and nicknames like "Dogshit & Garbage".
Internet users from discussion forum Hong Kong Golden quickly set up a Facebook group to mobilize local people to protest in front of its flagship store on Sunday.
Close to 21,700 people had joined the page and around 19,000 members were talking about it, as of late Wednesday.
Following the protest Sunday, D&G issued a statement to the press but has stopped short of an apology and ignored negative sentiment online.
PR experts are surprised by D&G's approach.
"D&G needs to reassure Hong Kongers that it is listening and understands their concerns. They should apologize as soon as possible," Charles Pownall, lead digital strategist at Burson-Marsteller Asia Pacific said.
He added the company's current hands-off approach to social media discussions, especially those on its primary channels, will likely only further convince locals that it is not acting in their best interests.
His advice for D&G and other luxury brands caught in this situation is to respond quickly, while ensuring you are confident of your facts.
And act genuinely by actively soliciting opinions of social media users to have a better chance of persuading them that the brand is genuinely listening to their views.
Or you can be cheeky and follow the example of Escapade Sports, which told its customers they are all welcome to take photos of its storefront.
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March 19, 2014