Another day, another uproar over an ad quoting a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Mercedes-Benz apologized Tuesday on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging platform, for posting an unspecified but "deeply wrong" message in social media. Press reports in China say the marketer had posted an inspirational quote from the Dalai Lama on its Instagram account, accompanied by a photo of a white luxury car on the beach. "Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open," the quote said.
The post was soon erased, but not before some Chinese media outlets captured screen shots.
Unlike the situation Ram found itself this week, when people complained that its Super Bowl ad quoting Martin Luther King Jr. appropriated a civil rights hero to sell trucks, Mercedes apparently mistepped by citing the Dalai Lama approvingly at all. China, the world's largest car market, considers the Tibetan spiritual leader to be an "anti-China separatist."
Foreign brands including Marriott International, Delta, Zara and Muji have run into trouble lately with missteps over how they described China's territorial claims in their marketing or commercial materials. Marriott made the mistake of listing Tibet and several other areas as independent countries when China claims sovereignty over them. Chinese authorities shut down Marriott's website and app in China for a week in response.
In what is perhaps a sign of how jittery foreign brands have become about offending Chinese authorities or consumers, Mercedes worded its apology on Weibo carefully and without any hedging. "We are well aware of how this has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, including our Chinese colleagues, and we offer our most sincere apologies," it says, without mentioning the Dalai Lama by name.
Blocked in China
Interestingly enough, Instagram is not even accessible to China's masses. The Chinese government blocks Instagram, along with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and most Google services. To use them within mainland China, you need to circumvent China's "Great Firewall" through a virtual private network. So the German carmaker is apologizing for a post that wasn't even visible to people in China unless they jumped through hoops to see it.
"That China can intimidate foreign brands into censoring themselves should be extremely scandalous," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, wrote on Twitter. "This can very soon get out of control."
A China-based representative for Mercedes parent Daimler did not immediately return an email seeking more details. Mercedes' statement also says that the company "will immediately take measures to deepen our understanding of Chinese culture and values, including for our colleagues overseas, and to regulate our actions to prevent such incidents from happening again."