Chinese Marketing Campaigns in 2018 that Led to Controversy (2)
“Wrong” political or territorial stance – Mercedes Benz
Last February, a seemingly innocent post to Mercedes’ Instagram page drew harsh criticism from Chinese internet users. The ad showed a caption under a Benz on the beach with rolling white-capped waves, quoting the Dalai Lama: “Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open.” Though he is a Nobel Prize winner, the controversial figure is seen by Beijing and the Chinese people as a separatist advocating for Tibet’s independence. Shortly after the overwhelming outcry of protest, the German auto giant backpedaled and apologized for “hurting the feelings” of the Chinese people and withdrew the post from social media.
What Anita Liu, senior social marketer, says
China is a country known for being highly sensitive to international political issues, and it boasts a group of citizens, who should probably be called “super patriots,” who defend territorial and spiritual national unity at all times and fight against online or offline dissidents all over the world. With China having such a peculiar regime system, it knows clearly that fast development and a growing economy can be obstructed by internal tension. Therefore keeping the whole society stable in the long-term has always been placed as the top priority by authorities, even sometimes at cost of innovation and civilization (human rights, as interpreted by the Western world). People are therefore are inevitably educated to act for and protect the national interest.
However, this kind of propaganda can be difficult to understand globally, since the mainstream value recognized by most people in democratic countries is individualism. It advocates people to choose, or even to create, a stance that agrees with personal benefits and publicly, appeal for more support. Such values encourage most European and American businesspeople to aggressively express their concern over international issues, for example, human rights infringement, defective education systems, and power-seeking wars, regardless of the pros and cons that the relevant government authorities might have considered, to imply their underlining social responsibility which can help renovate brand images.
In this case, when Mercedes’s admiration towards Dalai Lama, which stems from his “spiritually” freeing Tibet movement, and China’s political interest (of both government and its people), clash, the social media campaign fails. How to strike a balance between brand presentation and political correctness can be an eternal question of various global commercial leaders with no answer. Nevertheless, Chinese Marketing is here to warn about taboos that we suggest should be walked around. Those who do otherwise may end up with another official apology alongside a campaign crash.
- Politically speaking, Taiwan and Tibet are inseparable territories of China. Try to avoid dissidents and their thoughts.
- China is now encouraging families to have multiple kids. Those brutal enforcements once executed during the notorious, but also past, One-Child Policy: please, just let go.
- Avoid link-building between China and Japan in adverts. If you have to, never imply that Japan is superior in the slightest way, under any circumstances.
You can say that people in China are conditioned, but free speech and free internet are really not that important for them to be happy. Don’t believe it? Come and have a look – everything finds its own way out here. Therefore, boasting about freedom in your marketing materials may not resonate with innate “into the wild” desires. Nothing is better than living with safety.
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