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The storm around Chiara Ferragni is not letting up

Brands like Coca-Cola and Safilo have ditched their collaborations with the Italian influencer after she was fined for misleading advertising. The businesswoman has turned to a firm specializing in crisis management to recover her reputation, her brand partnerships and earnings

Chiara Ferragni
Chiara Ferrani, in July, at a haute couture runway event during Paris Fashion Week.Marc Piasecki (WireImage / Getty)

Influencer Chiara Ferragni (36 years old, Cremona) has been at the center of a media storm. It all started when she received a fine of $1.08 million for “incorrect commercial practices” due to a controversial charity campaign in collaboration with an Italian brand of Christmas pandoro cakes. The advertisement was an apparent fundraiser for a children’s hospital, but in reality, the brand had made a past donation to the hospital, and intended to keep the money from the cakes’ inflated prices for itself. The fine attracted intense media coverage, and even Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni weighed in on the controversy. Ferragni, who describes herself as a businesswoman and entrepreneur, made a video apology and announced that she would donate her fee to a medical center in Turin. But the gesture was not enough to rehabilitate her image. Over the last few weeks, she has lost a stampede of sponsors and followers, and the Italian government has even passed a piece of legislation, known as the Ferragni law, to regulate social media profiles with more than one million followers in order to prevent scams and misleading advertising, and to protect minors.

If that weren’t enough, the well-known influencer — one of the first in the world to whom that term was applied — is being investigated by the prosecutor’s office for an alleged crime of aggravated fraud. Apart from the pandoros, under scrutiny are her campaigns for chocolate Easter eggs and a children’s doll that were associated with fundraisers to fight cyberbullying and homophobia.

One of the brands that has decided to break ties with Ferragni is Coca-Cola, which had even shot an ad featuring her in December that was scheduled to be released around this time. The iconic soft drink company decided to take a step back after the scandal and consequent media fallout, and has announced it will not air the ad. “We worked with Chiara in Italy in 2023, there was even some filming done in December. For the moment, we do not plan to use that content,” the company told La Repubblica newspaper.

At the end of the year, Safilo, an Italian high-end eyewear company, announced that it had ended its collaboration with Ferragni. Stationery company Cartiere Paolo Pigna has also terminated its business relationship with the influencer, with whom it had been collaborating since 2021. The company has explained that it made its decision “in compliance with its corporate code of ethics, which excludes collaboration with third parties sanctioned by relevant authorities for engaging in unethical correct and law-abiding behavior.”

Ferragni’s companies have appealed the fine in court, and she has announced that she will undertake “similar protection initiatives against those who act against existing collaboration contracts”. Ferragni still has strong commercial relationships with major brands such as Monnalisa, with which she has an agreement to develop children’s clothing and tracksuits, and is the face of Pantene and Arval Cosmetici, among other companies.

Chiara Ferragni and husband Fedez at the Met gala in 2022, in New York.
Chiara Ferragni and husband Fedez at the Met gala in 2022, in New York.Theo Wargo (WireImage / Getty)

In addition to the influencer’s fall from grace, there are the economic damage to her multi-million-dollar empire, which includes three companies valued at around $108 million. Knowing the exact value of the losses that have been incurred is difficult. Beyond the terminated brand collaborations is the fact that she has vastly reduced her activity on social media, one of her major sources of income. The Italian is no longer publishing sponsored posts on Instagram, for which she used to charge tens of thousands of dollars.

After she posted her apology video, and several weeks of unusual radio silence, Ferragni returned to Instagram a month ago. It is the social network that made her famous, and where she once broadcasted her luxurious life on a daily basis. But she has considerably reduced the frequency with which she posts and has restricted user comments, likely to avoid the flood of negative feedback she began to receive when news of the fine broke. In the first stories she posted after the scandal, Ferragni told her followers (who, despite the recent scandal, still number 29.3 million) that she missed them. The influencer has lost just over 200,000 followers, which is a tiny percentage of her online community, but nonetheless constitutes her biggest drop since she first appeared on social media. She thanked those who have been close to her throughout the previous weeks, and also those who “have expressed their opinion, even when it’s negative, in a calm and constructive tone, because in life there is always time to face up, reflect and start again.” Those words were what could be the first step in a long process to clean up her image, which will be necessary to maintain her standing with her public and calm the companies with which she still does business.

For an influencer like Ferragni, reputation is paramount, the key to her relationships and earnings. She needs to prove that she is still a reliable collaborator, and that her image is credible, if she wants to keep her million-dollar contracts. To do so, according to reports from local media, she has turned to a communications company that specializes in image crisis management, Community Reputation Advisers. The firm has managed reputational crisis such as the fraudulent bankruptcy of the Parmalat dairy products company, and has worked with companies like Standard & Poor’s, Turin’s Juventus soccer club and Italian infrastructure group Atlantia in the wake of the Morani Bridge collapse in Genoa.

In Ferragni’s case, a complex, multi-part strategy has been deployed. First, there was her unprecedented period of total silence. Then, the phrase “I missed you guys” in an attempt to re-engage her followers, and then, photos of her two children, her mother and her two sisters, all of them well-known thanks to their Prime Video family reality show, Los Ferragnez. But there has been one notable absence. In recent publications there is no trace, either in photos or comments, of her husband, the Italian signer Fedez, who has traveled to Miami. The Italian press has presented several explanations for his trip, even positing that a separation may be forthcoming. Media sources allege that Ferragni visited a building that is home to the offices of a well-known Milanese divorce lawyer, a rumor that the influencer’s inner circle has denied. Others have surmised that the apparent media distancing can be chalked up to a marketing strategy to separate the careers and narratives of one of the country’s best-known couples in the hopes of saving their empire.

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