Crossfire Victim: L'Oreal, PRC & Hong Kong Democracy

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 6/09/2016 10:17:00 AM
On the bright side for L'Oreal, they won't hire the Dalai Lama as a spokesperson since he hair.
I hate to say it but, if Hongkongers were optimistic about the remit of "one country, two systems," then they have been proven wrong again. What we recently had was a big brouhaha when Lancome, one of the brands of French cosmetics giant L'Oreal, decided to sponsor a concert by canto pop (that's Hong Kong's particular brand of Cantonese-language pop which you'll hear on its streets day in and day out) star Denise Ho. It would be an unremarkable marketing promotion exercise were it not for Denise Ho being an outspoken proponent of democracy for Hong Kong [!] and a vocal supporter of Tibetan independence [!!] besides. Some people--Lancome's management in HK--are just asking for it.

The trouble began when the stridently jingoistic, quasi-official Global Times blasted Lancome for effectively going against the will of Beijing, calling for a mainland boycott of the brand. With China being the brand's second-largest market, you can guess what the result was: Lancome decided to cancel the planned Hong Kong concert, disowning Denise Ho in the process. The Global Times is even gloating that PRC "market power" is responsible for this change of heart:
Ho was one of the most prominent activists during the 2014 Hong Kong Occupy Central Movement. Mainland netizens then began to boycott her and her harsh response further enraged the mainland public. Last month, she posted her photos with the Dalai Lama on Facebook, writing "I could feel the blessing and energy rushing through my body just by holding his hands." The disagreement between her and mainland opinion is deepening.

Lancôme responded fast by releasing a statement saying Ho was not a spokesperson for the brand and canceled the planned concert, citing "safety reasons." But the real reason is self-explanatory.

Some Hongkongers slammed Lancôme for groveling to the mainland and vowed to resist the products of Lancôme and parent company L'Oreal. It seems that Ho has pushed Lancôme into a dilemma. Apparently Lancôme has given more consideration to the sentiment of the mainland public, because the mainland boasts a much larger market than Hong Kong. As a commercial company, it is bound to seek commercial gains, a wisdom it is supposed to have under complex situations. No big companies would like to step into politics as the high stakes have already been proved by previous cases.
Meanwhile, mayhem erupted in the normally placid and consumerist shopping malls of Hong Kong as protesters targeted Lancome and sometimes other L'Oreal brands' outlets in the city:
Cosmetics maker Lancome shut all its Hong Kong shops on Wednesday as protesters accused the cosmetics brand of kowtowing to Beijing when it scrapped a promotional event featuring an activist singer...

Several dozen protesters marched to an unstaffed Lancome counter in a downtown Hong Kong department store Tuesday. They taped up signs accusing the company of self-censorship and of kowtowing to Beijing and called for a boycott.

Hong Kong's 23 Lancome boutiques were closed for the day and it was uncertain whether they would reopen on Thursday, which is a public holiday, a customer service representative said by phone. Lancome and its parent company, French cosmetics giant L'Oreal, did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Shops under at least four other L'Oreal brands, including Kiehl's and The Body Shop, were also shut.
There is no edifying aspect to this spectacle. Instead, I will say that it was spectacularly dumb of Lancome to choose Denise Ho for a promotional concert when there are dozens of canto pop stars who are as outspoken. Pro-democracy Hong Kong campaigners will have another reason to be dismayed, but hey, there's a definite case for not putting yourself in such a compromised position to begin with.

UPDATE: Also see Advertising Age for more on the political angle of this topic.