Sensibilities be damned: when luxury brands sell violence

Updated: Jan 18


Sensationalism isn’t new. Whether it be how news is delivered to us or how products are marketed to us we as consumers are meant to feel strongly about it. We are meant to feel angry, sad, happy or empathetic, for example. Some advert, however, presents to us violence or implied violence intended to evoke in us a desire to act to prevent the said violence. In an era where sexual assault and violence against women is a topical issue due to the prevalence of very real crimes, it seems odd that a brand would choose these types of actions (implied or otherwise) as a way in which to market their products. In the blog post, we will explore the statistics related to domestic violence (physical, sexual and emotional) and through the lens of the controversial Dolce and Gabbana Spring/Summer 2007 ad campaign. To find out more just keep reading.

The sobering stats in Australia

Figure: Murder in Australia (https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/facts-violence-women/domestic-violence-statistics/)

Figure: Domestic violence statistics in Australia (https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-sexual-violence-in-australia-2018/contents/summary)

Violence is hardly an inconsequential issue. We can hardly say that it only affects a minority of individuals. It is a problem that leads to higher rates of drug addiction, homelessness, social and emotional problems. The social cost is staggering and when we look at the economic impact of this violence, AU$22 billion we can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist. So why did a luxury brand use this type of violence (implied or otherwise) in their ad campaign?

Figure 3: Economic impact of violence (https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/facts-violence-women/domestic-violence-statistics/)

The case study Brand: Dolce & Gabbana Ad descriptive: Campaign 2007 Controversy: Violence/Danger to Women = Gang Rape

Figure: Dolce & Gabbana, Spring/Summer 2007 Campaign, https://contently.com/strategist/2014/09/05/4-of-the-most-offensive-ads-of-the-last-decade/

Trade Article: Moss, R. 2015, ‘Gang Rape’ Dolce & Gabbana Advert Brings Yet More Controversy For Brand After ‘Synthetic’ IVF Comments, viewed 26 July 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/03/18/dolce-and-gabbana0gang-rape-advert_n_6893044.html

Analytical critique: Snapshot Criteria Analysis in Brief Objective To shock us and therefore cement the brand name in consumers’ minds Intended Audience Fashion-forward men and women Brand Reasoning All publicity is good publicity Effectiveness Lots of attention and therefore publicity is generated but most was not positive. Most comments related to this advert cite it as misogynistic and placing women firmly in the role of helpless things that acted upon rather than an active, willing participant who is choosing to act. Room for Improvement Avoid this type of cheap sensationalism Effect/Impact on the Brand This ad which when added to other provocative statements has resulted in consumers reconsidering Dolce & Gabbana as their preferred brand. Boycotts of the brand have trended on social media and have been mocked and capitalised upon by the brand.

Analytical critique: In full The brand is notorious for espousing shocking views on family, women, politics, etc. The brand has no fear of attractive bad publicity or any type of backlash. With this brand, there is no occasion to be blasé. Consumers will either love the brands' brazen attitude or find it repugnant. The brand has long mocked those who try to boycott it or impose any sort of limit on its reach. This specific example makes it difficult to determine what exactly is being advertised. The consumer may consider that the jeans and shirts worn by the half-naked men are the products being advertised. The consumer may consider that the dress being worn by the woman pinned down and seen by the group of men is being advertised. The consumer can’t help but wonder why the woman seems so helpless. They wonder why she is the lone female in the frame. Many have cited the misogyny clear in having a lone female being treated as an object that is acted upon rather than a willing participant taking part in the action. The implied force and violence in the men’s stance and their partial state of undress evokes rape and more specifically gang rape. Even if the audience is fashion forward who are jaded and used to provocative advertisement this seems a step too far. As previously mentioned, you are what you associate your brand with. It may be seen as acceptable to associate your brand with controversial or unpopular celebrities but associating your brand with violence, humiliation, and dehumanisation of others is decidedly not.

To say that the ad campaign was metaphorically tone deaf is an understatement. Is it because many of us fail to see something as a problem if it isn’t directly affecting us? Is it because we think that brands need to be more and more sensationalistic in order to stand out? Is it because many of us have become apathetic, numb or less empathetic to many things that are happening in this world due to our obsession with appearing “tough” or “strong” and not “snowflakes”? Letting implied or real violence slide, letting implied or real discrimination slide, letting implied or real indifference slide, is dangerous. It might seem like no big deal in theory, but it very much becomes a big deal when you see the impact of such indifference. If we stand for nothing, we run the risk of falling for everything and then where will that lead us all?

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