By Cynthia Martens
Pandoro, a traditionally star-shaped sweet bread dusted with powdered sugar, is a favorite holiday treat in Italy, rivaled only by panettone, a domed Milanese cake with candied orange, lemon and raisins. According to newswire ANSA, Italians spent €330 million on Christmas cakes last December.
Understandably, when the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) – Italy's antitrust authority – reported on December 15 that it was fining Chiara Ferragni, the country's most successful fashion influencer, and Balocco, a Turin-based maker of cookies and cakes, for a misleading charity initiative linked to pandoro, the media was quick to dub the matter "Pandoro-Gate."
The AGCM fines were for over €1 million and €420,000, respectively, and prosecutors in Milan and Cuneo, a city in the Piedmont region, soon announced criminal investigations as well.
Italy's Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (AGCOM), the country's communications authority, snapped to attention on January 10, announcing an exacting set of new rules that are applicable to influencers who are posting in Italian and working with Italian brands, and who have at least a million followers across social media platforms as well as an engagement rate of at least two percent. AGCOM said a new influencer code of conduct is to follow.
What, exactly, is "Pandoro-Gate" about? In late 2022, Ferragni agreed to promote a special "Pink Christmas" Balocco pandoro covered in pink powdered sugar, apparently receiving a payment of over €1 million for the branding initiative. Both parties advertised the cakes in connection with a charity drive for a children's hospital in Turin.
The Regina Margherita hospital, however, said that it had only received a one-off donation of €50,000 from Balocco prior to the company's campaign with Ferragni – meaning that sales of the Christmas cakes had no effect on the donation received – and that Ferragni had not contributed at all.
AGCM said the pandoro campaign intentionally misled consumers into thinking that their cake purchases supported the hospital. Ferragni has since publicly apologized for the "communication error" and donated €1 million to the Regina Margherita hospital, but the matter has opened something of a "pandoro" box of legal issues. Press reports indicate that prosecutors are also investigating Ferragni in connection with a Dolci Preziosi campaign involving chocolate Easter eggs and 2019 sales of a doll resembling Ferragni, the proceeds of which were to support an anti-bullying organization.
For Ferragni, a millennial fashionista who shot to fame in Milan after launching a blog called "The Blonde Salad" in 2009 and later parlayed her success into clothing and shoe lines while landing high-profile board positions, "Pandoro-Gate" also illustrates the broader perils of influence. According to WWD, consumer reactions to the debacle have been overwhelmingly negative and major brands have subsequently dropped their partnerships with Ferragni.
However, she is not alone in facing a public reckoning. This week, a Bloomberg op-ed columnist suggested that "[t]hough Ferragni's fall can be seen as an isolated blow to the estimated $250 billion influencer industry, it could also be a broader warning of shifting winds," since Italy has often been "at the vanguard" where tech and fashion intersect.
No one, it seems, is dreaming of a Pink Christmas anymore.
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