Italian luxury fashion house Prada is facing a major backlash after the holiday release of caricatures that consumers have complained resemble blackface.

Largely responsible for the public scrutiny has been Otto, a brown monkey-like figurine with large red lips.

Otto is part of Prada’s new family of mysterious creatures labeled as Pradamalia. Per the company’s branding, these characters (Disco, Socks, Fiddle, Otto, Toto, Scuba, and Spot) are said to be the result of experiments at Prada Labs and are “one part biological, one part technological, all parts Prada.”

Social media reactions have been extremely negative, with the company being criticized on all platforms for featuring “racist” and “blackface” imagery.

Following backlash, Prada issued an apology on Twitter, stating that the company “abhors racist imagery” and “never had the intention of offending anyone.” Adding to the apology, Prada has ensured all characters in question will be removed from displays and circulation; the brand also issued a press release fully addressing the racial injustice at hand and pledged to improve its diversity training and efforts of inclusion. By recommendation of the public, proceeds generated from the Pradamalia in question (Otto and Toto) will be donated to a New York-based organization dedicated to fighting for racial justice.

Prada is by no means the only luxury fashion house in Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Fashion Global to ruffle feathers this year. Just last month, Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana riled up consumers on social media by releasing a series of videos on its Weibo account showcasing a Chinese model attempting to eat Italian food with chopsticks while a Chinese narrator mispronounced the brand’s name in the background.

Ironically, before the scandal, D&G was one of just a handful of prestige brands heavily benefiting from press mentions. As much as 11% of site traffic for prestige brands in Gartner L2’s study came from referrals, making clear that earned media has become a vehicle through which brands are able to reach wider audiences, in addition to demonstrating their relevance to current trends. Brands that score over 800 article mentions tend to see significant associated gains in traffic.

While the China events certainly added to that publicity, all press isn’t good press for luxury brands. D&G’s positive engagement on social media was crowded out by negative press associated with the scandal. At the time, eight of the top 15 trending hashtags on Weibo were related to the controversy.

Engagement on Twitter and Facebook has been similar for Prada. Consumers have been taking up the hashtags #blackface and #boycottPrada in response to the controversy, highlighting the importance of brand impression and its overall effect on funneling site traffic. Brands should think carefully about the products and campaigns they launch, as in the digital age, negative publicity can have a devastating effect.

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