Table of Contents
Evaluate the causes and escalation of incidents based on sensitive issues such as gender stereotyping and identity representation used in brand communication promotional collaterals.
Appreciate how gender representation of men and women, in contrast to their biological sex, is socially constructed and value-based and how it can be considered inaccurate or stereotypical when used in brand communication messages.
Acquire the knowledge and aptitude to deal in person with a crisis situation through role-playing the various parties typically involved in this type of incident such as the brand manager, journalist, and consumer, thereby enabling the practice of the professional handling of future crises and issues-based situations of this nature.
Apply creative design competencies and brand communication skills by creating an appropriate and inclusive design for a new range of T-shirts for the fashion brand and devising the content for a persuasive campaign to promote the new garment range.
Giordano International Limited is an international mid-range fashion retailer of casual style, mid-market men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and accessories headquartered in Hong Kong. With its current tag line, “Giordano Means Service,” it offers value, casualwear wardrobe staples consisting of, for example, cotton T-shirts, denim jeans, and khaki shorts for all the family at low- to mid-range price points.
Hong Kong businessman Jimmy Lai established the clothing manufacturing company, Giordano Holding Ltd., in 1981 by opening one outlet in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong, at that time still a British colony. Lai is no longer involved in the company and Dr. Peter Lau Kwok Kuen occupies the role of Company CEO and Chairman, a position that he has held since 1996. The brand manages 2,300 retail outlets employing 80,000 staff in over 30 global markets including Hong Kong, the Philippines, China, South Korea, the Middle East, France, Canada, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, and Japan, as well as having a presence in emerging markets such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Mongolia, and Cambodia (Giordano 2019a). Giordano was publicly listed in 1991, trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange and appears to be profitable with a return of HK$161 million according to the interim report in 2019 (Giordano 2019b), buoyed by expansion into China across the past two decades and, more recently, into the growing consumer markets of the Middle East. Giordano’s corporate mission, according to the company website, is “to provide relevant, essential and timeless fashion for all; and to develop apparel for everyone regardless of ethnicity, nationality or culture, truly illustrating our brand value ‘World Without Strangers’” (Giordano 2019a).
When it was founded, this homegrown brand, originally a purely menswear offering, was one of the few local fashion companies operating in a territory more known as a clothing manufacturer and exporter from the 1950s to 1970s. This market presence paved the way for other Hong Kong fashion and lifestyle value brands such as Bossini, G2000, U2, and latterly Hang Ten and Baleno, representing strong local competition and similar offerings of reasonable-quality clothing at affordable prices. In addition, the entry into the Asian market of high street brands, such as Zara, Mango, H&M, and A&F, with distinct brand personas, offered unique brand experiences, often based on their country of origin. Contributing additional pressure in the mid-market segment when catering for the seemingly insatiable demands of the ever-growing urban Asian consumer undergoing lifestyle changes, as their economies prospered at different rates, resulting in the trend for spending increasingly large amounts of their income on branded clothing as a form of conspicuous consumption and as an expression of modernity. Often referred to as Hong Kong’s equivalent of GAP, Giordano founder Lai allegedly named the company after a visit to New York, where he frequented a local neighborhood pizzeria of the same name and on finding the pizza napkin in his pocket the next day decided that this would be an ideal name for his new fashion company back in Hong Kong. Lai gave the nascent brand an Italian sounding name to generate more positive international connotations of quality and style (Blennethassett 1996). This also aimed to minimize the prevailing negative associations accorded to local Hong Kong brands of copyright infringements or poor design, and the local perception that Western brands were more superior than their homegrown equivalents (Skov 2002), which some consider to be a form of identity-based insecurity engendered by a colonized mentality and a predominantly Western-centric fashion system (Craik 1994), although this situation is now changing.
From Lai’s initial aim to be a premium-priced apparel brand, Giordano came to adapt their strategy in the mid-1980s by following other successful international fashion retailers, based on several strategic initiatives.
Better computerization and tighter range control were adopted and the company altered its pricing strategy to become a discounter, selling a fairly limited range of lines to a broad customer base. The stated marketing objective for Giordano was to pursue a “value for money” positioning based on a combination of keen prices and customer satisfaction from quality products. By targeting people from all areas of life, irrespective of age, background, and culture, the company was aiming for volume sales using the chain-store concept (Dibb 1996: 6).
Giordano has managed and sustained its survival and prospered in a highly competitive global fashion marketplace by offering value garments enabled by outsourcing low-cost labor and production outlays in neighboring mainland China factories. Giordano benefits from economies of scale by creating and offering a limited range of designs and niche, segmented diffusion lines for the middle-income market segment and the trend conscious, if not fashion-forward, consumer desiring simple, chic designs (Dibb 1996). This multi-brand market offering enables flexibility in targeting and catering for different consumer needs. Therefore, the generic “Giordano” label offering casual wardrobe basics appeals to young people, male and female, aged twenty to thirty-five, as reflected in the age of the models featured on the company’s website and its advertising campaigns. Equally, Giordano Junior for children and youth brand BSX, or the low cost Beau Monde, all cater for different segmented style tastes and levels of affordability, while “Giordano Concepts” and Giordano Ladies aim for the more trend conscious, affluent working female equating a higher price point with more fashionable choices. As another way of differentiating the brand from competitors, Giordano has become recognized through various industry awards for its emphasis on customer care and its flat organizational structure thereby enabling faster response times and tighter communication channels to match customer needs (Wirtz 2011).
In her seminal work on gender representation, Judith Butler suggested that we are born into a biological sex but are socially encouraged to perform our gender identity to varying degrees of feminine and masculine, and thus the gender binary of male and female is socially constructed and reinforced throughout our lives by social institutions such as the media (Butler 1990). Focusing specifically on advertising, Erving Goffman demonstrated how images in advertising reinforced gender stereotyping and consistently represented women as passive or submissive, and males as powerful and dominant (Goffman 1979). Sociologists Sut Jhally (1995) and Jean Kilbourne (2000) both highlight how images of women in the media reflect dominant patriarchal societal norms and power relations, portraying women as inferior and in subordinate roles. The controversial Giordano advertising campaign and product range evoking claims of sexist gender stereotyping appeared to confirm this viewpoint.
The contested situation in this case developed in May 2018, when the Giordano brand portrayed a female model representing a mother in an online advertising campaign titled “Team Family Series: It’s Family Time!” She was wearing a T-shirt bearing the word “Cook” in large block letters, underscored with a qualifying phrase “I love to cook for my kids,” accompanied by an image of a plate of sandwiches. In contrast, the male model’s T-shirt featured the word “Work” with an accompanying dollar sign. The campaign resulted in multiple vociferous complaints on social media criticizing the brand’s promotional campaign as “sexist” and offensive to women by portraying them in a demeaning domestic role, as contrasted with the portrayal of the male in the more powerful role of the family’s financial provider, while others also questioned why being a mother was not also a form of work. Consequently, many angry netizens objected to this stereotypical portrayal of male and female roles, calling it “another great step backwards for feminism” (Grundy 2018a) and a tone-deaf, out-dated expression of values, and threatened to boycott the brand. One of the initial commentators on the campaign explained her outraged response in a media interview:
In Hong Kong the majority of households have both parents employed outside the home. Yet, Giordano’s Family Time line has the female wearing a “cook” t-shirt? And the youngest child – is relegated to cry? Why not laugh? And since when isn’t cooking work? The insensitivity of this campaign is stunning.
I just had to unshackle myself from the kitchen and break from my “cooking” duties to let you know that the 1950s called, they want their attitude back. How an earth do you call this “family time”? Shame on you! #notmyfamily.
|(Knott and Reinfrank 2018)|
One commentator also aired the view that given the current climate of awareness this insensitive portrayal was so blatant that it had to be a deliberate strategy by the clothing brand to generate significant publicity:
I honestly think companies do this completely on purpose – for free advertising. I know it seems like bad publicity but it gets the name out there and people forget what they did, but the name sticks and they remember the brand.
First and foremost, on behalf of myself, and Giordano, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for bringing this to our attention and to apologize. A public statement will be issued this evening regarding the matter.
For over 30 years, Giordano’s philosophy of “World Without Strangers” has transcended its origins and has developed enduring trust and strong relationships with our consumers and partners across all borders and cultures. We pride ourselves on providing relevant, essential and timeless fashion for all; and to develop apparel to be worn by everyone regardless of ethnicity, nationality, culture or gender. We have recently received a number of enquiries and complaints regarding our “Team Family” advertising campaign in Hong Kong. The spirit of the campaign is to celebrate the power of the family, with the corresponding merchandise using words to depict different, random aspects of life. Unfortunately, our advertising showed a male model wearing a t-shirt with the word “work” and a female model wearing a t-shirt with the word “cook”. We agree that the ultimate products could be a better way in presentation that is one of many ways to presenting the love to family, which did not reflect our entire true values. Stereotyping and sexism, or any kind of prejudice, however unintentional or passive, has no place at Giordano or in society. At Giordano, we celebrate a diverse range of definitions for family and did not intend to enforce traditional, gendered stereotypes. The campaign advertising materials will be removed where physically possible. We appreciate your feedback. (Giordano 2018)
The “offensive” advertisement and related promotional collaterals, including the T-shirt range, were removed from stores, the company website, and Facebook. The original role-designating T-shirt range was also replaced by an advertising campaign and new T-shirt range decorated with a large jigsaw puzzle for each character.
Following the complaints from netizens and consumers some commentators observed that Giordano’s response was not as efficient as they expected in removing the controversial fashion items at point of sale and pointed out that although “Promotions featuring the t-shirts had been removed from its customer-facing website and social media pages as of 11pm on Monday. But the line remains on sale and the promotion was still visible at some stores, on YouTube and on its corporate website on Tuesday” (Grundy 2018b). Nevertheless, the decision to pull the campaign and the clothing range was a relatively unusual corporate response for a Hong Kong brand. In contrast to some other markets Hong Kong had no laws relating to gender representation or stereotypical visual and verbal content in advertising campaigns. In media interviews, Lisa Moore, Senior Research and Advocacy Manager at Hong Kong-based non-profit The Women’s Foundation, responded to this incident by noting that according to recent research conducted by her organization titled “A Guide to Progressive Portrayals in Advertising: the Case for Unstereotyping Ads” (World Federation of Advertisers [WFA] 2018), the Hong Kong cityscape is crowded with examples of sexist or non-inclusive advertising content. As Moore further explained:
Whether on billboards, buses, in print or on television, gender stereotyping in advertising is still quite prevalent in Hong Kong […] From financial loan commercials to ads for household products, women are often depicted in domestic roles […] thirty per cent of the pages in our entertainment magazines are slimming ads directed at women underscoring the pressure on them to conform to often unrealistic ideals […] More than other developed economies, the representation of gender-specific professions like secretaries and nurses being depicted by women are still quite prevalent in Hong Kong, with men primarily featured in roles of authority, and male voices more commonly used for commentaries and voice-overs.
|(Knott and Reinfrank 2018)|
Ironically, the incident occurred at the same time that the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) issued guidelines aimed at assisting brands in ensuring that their advertising content represented a more realistic and progressive picture of gender roles (WFA 2018). In Hong Kong the enforcement of advertising standards codes and related ethical practices is under the purview of the twenty-eight member Accredited Advertising Agencies of Hong Kong (HK 4A’s) yet decisions appear to be often left open to interpretation by the agencies and their clients on an individual campaign basis.
The “Team Family” incident highlights a common business challenge faced by many global brands—the need to ensure that the brand is represented and communicated in a consistent, yet culturally sensitive and inclusive manner that is in tune with the prevailing value system.
This case also highlights the different communicative roles that are played by various stakeholders responding to potentially offensive, yet unintentional situations, and the importance of social media in facilitating a public debate around controversies generated by fashion collections and advertising campaign content. Following negative criticism from consumers who posted their responses to this particular campaign, the media extended the public debate about the lack of inclusivity and gender stereotyping evident in the garment design concept and the content of the promotional campaign. Clearly, this type of negative fallout in the public domain affects all aspects of the brand profile and influences the interests of all stakeholders involved with the company, such as customers, the media, employees, competitors, and community and pressure groups. Equally, this type of public incident debated on social media sites can exert a potentially detrimental impact on company profitability in a highly competitive fashion retail marketplace (Mohr 2013).
Increasingly, fashion brands at different levels of the market from H&M to Gucci are hiring diversity officers in response to brand crises that have emerged due to ill-considered garment collection designs and accompanying promotional discourse that has triggered offence among stakeholders. Clearly, it is critical for fashion brands to be aware of and authentic about issues such as inclusivity and diversity from the perspective of their key stakeholders including suppliers, employees, shareholders, buyers, the media, and consumers. While the internet and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook afford closer asynchronous communication channels with consumers to showcase, comment on, and sell new collections, these digital communication channels also accommodate both positive and negative consumer commentary (Rocamora 2017), which has to be managed in a timely way by the public relations management team and public relations executives responsible for corporate communications so that it does not get out of control (Berger and Milkman 2012). Some have suggested that the creative design and discursive mistakes that fashion brands have often made in offending stakeholders and resulting in a public backlash are a symptom of a disconnect with the viewpoints and values of their core consumer base (Chua 2019) and a failure of the company management to plan ahead strategically in terms of how and who will deal with negative incidents and public feedback. Therefore, in response to this situation, the executive role of diversity officers with institutional backing, is to oversee and manage company-wide fashion design and marketing content decisions to ensure that they are inclusive and effectively accommodate a diverse perspective with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual alignment. The stimulus to add diversity officers, often with a professional background in human relations, to a fashion brand management team usually occurs in response to a controversial situation that has emerged. The professional brief of the diversity officer within an organization aims to ensure that strategic, internal and external policies are in place and active at all operational levels. This role aims to ensure diversity and inclusiveness internally in hiring policies and in general employee practices to create a corporate culture and climate that is diverse and inclusive as a matter of course and as a key part of all decision-making processes. In this way implicit bias, stereotyping, and discrimination are avoided both in and across all aspects of company operations traversing the supply chain.
Given the response to their advertising and clothing range content, which consumers considered to portray women in a demeaning way, Giordano were clearly faced with a brand crisis, namely a major happening with a negative outcome potential impacting the organization in addition to its stakeholders, outputs, and reputation (Coombs 2014). The business problem in this case centers on the company’s crisis communications response to the accusations of stereotypical gender representation of female and male models in their May 2018 advertising campaign. The case highlights why fashion brands need to be mindful of representing gender identity in accurate, balanced, and inclusive ways by identifying how and why gender is socially constructed. Also, it questions why this incident occurred, whether the brand responded quickly enough, and how applying proactive strategic brand communication management methodologies, devised to minimize negative impact, they might have better managed the situation. In addition, the brand’s response to criticism of the alleged sexist campaign can be evaluated in terms of its impact on brand image identity and brand equity. The brand responded by issuing a statement explaining its position and its brand ethos, while apologizing for any offence caused in its insensitive portrayal of women. Given that the crisis appeared to be abated once the apologia was issued and the advertising campaign and products withdrawn, did the company turn crisis into opportunity, and to what extent was this an innocent mistake or a deliberate means to generate more publicity for the brand in a crowded high street fashion marketplace? Since the incident occurred, Giordano’s profits do not seem to have been significantly impacted and no further backlash has occurred. Recently, Giordano pledged to continue its global expansion especially in the Middle East, which it considers to be a buoyant market for its casual wear. The question remains as to how Giordano can capitalize further on having elevated their public profile to strengthen their global market position in other culturally diverse and varied geographic markets in the future. Given that the Giordano brand does not have a diversity officer, unlike other fashion brands at all levels of the market, such as H&M, Gucci, Prada, Macy’s, Burberry, and Chanel, in response to fashion faux pas based on a lack of sensitivity to diversity or inclusiveness in their collections, such as H&M’s racist “Coolest Money in the Jungle” reference in their 2018 childrenswear line, the creation of this role in the brand management team could enable strategic and mindful brand building and an assurance of retaining social currency for the brand.
Key discussion question: If you were the Diversity Officer for the Giordano fashion brand, how would you advise the retail company to respond to public criticism of the offending advertising campaign in the short, medium, and long term?
Should the brand hire a diversity officer as a key part of its branding team, and what role would they play in managing and building the brand in the short, medium, and long term?
Extended Teaching Notes are only available for authorized instructors. Please Sign In with your personal instructor account to access.
Find in Library 2012. ““What Makes Online Content Viral?”.” and . Journal of Marketing Research (2): 192–205.
Find in Library . 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
2019. “Why Fashion Needs Chief Diversity Officers.” Vogue, November 21. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.voguebusiness.com/talent/articles/chief-diversity-officers-inclusion-burberry-gucci-hm/.
Find in Library 2014. Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding. New York: Sage Publications.
Find in Library . 1994. The Face of Fashion. London: Routledge.
Find in Library 1996. ““The Impact of the Changing Marketing Environment in the Pacific Rim: Four Case Studies”.” . International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management (11): 16–29.
Giordano. 2018. “Statement Regarding the Giordano Hong Kong ‘Team Family’ Advertising Campaign.” Accessed May 4, 2018. corp.giordano.com.hk/files/news_release/2018-05-21%2000.00.00.0532/STATEMENT%20REGARDING%20THE%20GIORDANOcorp.giordano.com.hk/files/news_release/2018-05-21%2000.00.00.0532/STATEMENT%20REGARDING%20THE%20GIORDANO%corp.giordano.com.hk/files/news_release/2018-05-21%2000.00.00.0532/STATEMENT%20REGARDING%20THE%20GIORDANO%20[E].pdf.
Giordano. 2019a. Accessed September 2, 2019. http://corp.giordano.com.hk/en/financial_reports.aspx.
Giordano. 2019b. Interim Financial Report. Accessed September 2, 2019. http://corp.giordano.com.hk/.
Find in Library . 1979. Gender Advertisements. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
2018a. “‘Another Great Step Backwards for Feminism’: Giordano Faces Backlash Over ‘Sexist’ Clothing Line.” Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), May 21. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.hongkongfp.com/2018/05/21/another-great-step-backwards-feminism-giordano-faces-backlash-sexist-clothing-line/..
2018b. “Giordano Partially Withdraws ‘Sexist’ Clothing Line Campaign Following Complaints.” Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), May 23. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.facebook.com/hongkongfp..
Find in Library . 1995. Video: Dreamworlds 2: Desire/Sex/Power in Music Video. Northampton: Media Education Foundation.
Find in Library . 2000. Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. New York: Simon and Shuster.
2018. “Hong Kong Fashion Brand Giordano Removes Sexist Ad after Social Media Backlash.” Fashion & Beauty Section, South China Morning Post (SCMP), May 22. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/fashion-beauty/article/2147224/hong-kong-fashion-brand-giordino-remove-sexist-ad-after. and .
Find in Library 2013. ““The Impact of Social Media on the Fashion Industry”.” . Journal of Applied Business and Economics (2): 17–22.
Find in Library 2017. ““Mediatization and Digital Media in the Field of Fashion”.” . Fashion Theory (5): 505–522.
Find in Library 2002. ““Hong Kong Fashion Designers as Cultural Intermediaries: Out of Global Garment Production”.” . Cultural Studies (4): 553–569.
Find in Library 2011. ““Giordano: Positioning for International Expansion”.” . Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies (1): 1–13.
World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). 2018. “WFA Launches Guide to Progressive Gender Portrayals in Advertising.” May 16. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://wfanet.org/knowledge/item/2018/05/16/WFA-launches-Guide-to-Progressive-Gender-Portrayals-in-Advertising.
The author wrote this case solely to provide material for class discussion and independent learning. The author does not intend to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a situation. The comments and interpretation presented are not necessarily those of the company or its employees. This case has been written on the basis of published sources only. The interpretation and perspectives presented in this case are not necessarily those of the company in question or any of its employees.
- Biological sex:
- Brand equity:
- Brand identity:
- Brand image:
- Corporate communications:
The in-house team responsible for monitoring and managing internal and external communications on behalf of an organization and who also work with the public relations executive and diversity officer to ensure that consistent and effective messages aligned with company policy are sanctioned.
- Crisis communication:
- Diversity officer:
A professional strategic role within an organization whereby the employee is hired to ensure that the organization is complying with inclusivity and diversity policies in its hiring, employment, and staffing policies, in addition to ensuring that the company’s internal and external communication across all documentation and discursive content reflects its diversity and inclusivity policies in terms of fairly representing gender, race, and ethnicity, for example.
The ways in which we define physical, biological, and other characteristics according to cultural interpretations of masculine and feminine. Gender labeling is often accepted as natural, yet the binary gender and sex system is socially constructed and based on learned codes that are interpreted and performed to varying degrees. These binary differences evade the commonalities that exist between females and males or downplay the differences that exist between and among males and between and among females.
- Gender display:
How a person understands, perceives, and projects their relationship to the world and to others, how that relationship is structured across time and space, and how a person imagines possibilities for their future.
- Preparedness planning:
- Public relations executive:
The professional role responsible for building and maintaining the reputation of an organization by managing communication through a range of mediated channels from print, broadcast, and digital media to social media platforms.
Any person connected to or impacted by an organization’s operations, resources, or outputs and who is affected by or can impact an organization’s objectives and activities such as employees, competitors, media, government departments, opinion leaders, pressure groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or consumers.
The use of repeated images and representations of groups in society, often negative or inaccurate, such as women or people of certain ethnicities or ages. As a short way of communicating and targeting the message across, the media rely heavily on stereotyped characters.