Food for Thought - Losers

Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash

Here are real life examples of cases in which companies drew massive negative attention when products and ad campaigns missed the mark, resulting in angry and dismayed consumers. When there are multiple touchpoints between concept and execution, the question remains - how does this happen?


Is this a disembodied cultural reference or blackface? Does it matter?


Gucci’s unofficial mission is to design beautiful clothes and accessories that people will pay a lot of money to buy and wear. This sweater is NOT beautiful. In fact, it’s downright weird. And for $890 it’s just plain ridiculous.

In his apology, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele stated that the sweater design was a tribute to Leigh Bowery, an Australian performance artist, club promoter and fashion designer known for his flamboyant make-up and colorful, patterned, not solid black costumes.

The blackface sweater may have been unintentional. But it begs the question of how many people saw the sweater before it went into production, to stores, and up on the Gucci website for sale. The answer is lots. It’s a shame that not one of those people had the wherewithal to raise his or her hand to say, "Hey, wait a minute…" If they did not see that, what else won’t they see? If it was intentional, that is no way to build a brand - or sales.

This error also illustrates that, to be effective, a tribute needs to be true to the original and educational. When you look at the sweater, due to poor conception, there is no visual way to trace it back to Leigh Bowery. Having said that, I think it is safe to say that many luxury buyers in the United States knew little to nothing about Leigh Bowery prior to the failed sweater. Dumping an insider reference on the market benefited no one. A mass luxury tribute is only a tribute if the audience knows it is a tribute and to whom. A tribute that stays inside your creative process not to be understood by your audience is not a tribute. It’s a fail.

Which brings us to…

Dolce and Gabbana

Blackamoor images on the runway, rape ads, "slave sandals" priced at $2,395.00. Dolce and Gabbana already had a bad reputation for not understanding or caring about decency or getting diversity right. The company’s failed campaign in advance of its 2018 Shanghai show got ugly fast. It may have been intentional. Either way, D&G was forced to cancel the show.

China has a long and rich history, culture, and civilization. If you want to build a luxury brand, why insult a fledgling superpower? A fledging superpower with pride of heritage and lots of serious luxury consumers. 30 percent of the luxury market according to McKinsey to be specific. In 2018, China had 819 billionaires versus the US with 571 and Italy with 44. If you want to establish a luxury brand, China is a good place to be. A country with this rate of billionaire creation is surely not the land of rubes depicted by the D&G Shanghai show promotion.   

In the case of D&G, sometimes companies and their founders have to work on themselves first to be credible.

Adriana Degreas

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Adriana Degreas is a white swimsuit designer in Brazil. This collection is, apparently, a tribute to Escrava Anastacia, a well-known and iconic slave in the Bahia region who became a heroine with saint-like status throughout Brazil. This works on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. Let’s start by saying, these images are brutal, shocking, and true to history. That makes them hard to digest to say the least. To the black American eye, seeing these images worn, actually worn, by white models just does not go over.

This backstory does not necessarily make these images palatable to consumers of color but there is an argument to be made that context matters. But if you are a global or international company, the answer is - just don’t.

Katy Perry
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Not to be flip but a fresh eye might ask - "Why?" These shoes do not pass the aesthetic test and have no real reason to be. And what kind of collection would they go in exactly? End of story.



Dove has had such a great, long-running campaign celebrating women and their bodies that we expected better. A black woman takes off her shirt and becomes a white woman - implying that Dove will make her white, that white is cleaner and more desirable than black. That sequence also implies that white is the center, the core and that black is derivative. But in effective advertising in a digital global 24/7 world, all customers are equal.


Unless it’s Halloween, a man holding his own head in an advertisement is never a good thing. A black man holding his own decapitated head in a stance that looks like he is about to throw it down a football field brings up unfortunate and uncomfortable history. With the caption, “Re-civilize Yourself” this advertisement pretty much says black men are uncivilized.  We don’t think the people who designed this ad meant to be insulting. They probably just meant to poke a bit of fun at men’s grooming. But in marketing and advertising, you must know your audience. Buying should be a pleasant experience, not a battle with historical stereotypes.


Women’s bodies are not a playground for men, literally or figuratively. Men being disrespectful of women’s bodies is tone deaf in the age of #MeToo.

Play Station

White supremacists can be forgiven for thinking this ad is for them. This ad is not even a dog whistle. A frightened black woman, photographed in shadow, being manhandled by a giant, literally white, woman  with a look of disgust on her face...The black woman is presented lower and on the left side of the canvas which is compositionally the weakest side.


Given history, “White is coming” reads like a threat. And the harbinger of the day when White Supremacists are (back) in control, just as the white woman is in control of the black woman’s face. What kind of customer sees an ad like this and thinks, “Oh, wow. I can’t wait check this out,” as opposed to “Yikes, what is that all about?”

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