From McDonald's to Fendi: How a Few Brands Were Swept Into the Hong Kong Protests

Brands Made Some Surprising Appearances in the Umbrella Revolution

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Post-it notes are one symbol of the Hong Kong protests.
Post-it notes are one symbol of the Hong Kong protests. Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
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Umbrellas and yellow ribbons are the big symbols of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. But brands have also gotten roped in, with their names and products associated with the demonstrations as well.

Why did protesters put a noose on an Ikea plush toy and hang it from a bridge? Why is the world's largest jewelry brand doing damage control? And what was up with McDonald's -- why were the Hong Kong protesters lovin' it? (Obviously, global fast food conglomerates are not usually held dear by Occupy protesters.)

Here's a look at how a few brands have been popping up in the protests.

McDonald's: As demonstrations swept sections of the city in late September, many restaurants and shops closed up. McDonald's said all its restaurants remained open, except for one brief closure Sept. 29 in the Admiralty district, a hub of protests, because its supplies were disrupted. It reopened the next day.

An Admiralty outlet became a refuge for protesters, a place to get a bite to eat and use wifi. It was constantly packed.
"For two or three days, the only thing I ate was McDonald's," said Arthur Lo, a 20-year-old student who had wandered among the demonstrators, helping journalists with translation. Eventually, other restaurants opened again.

But McDonald's won special kudos: It even offered toothpaste at breakfast, a promotion that the company said was planned well before the protests. It was nonetheless welcomed by students and activists camping in the streets.

Fendi and Coach: The demonstrations are expected to deal a big blow to Hong Kong retail, especially since they happened over a Chinese holiday period that brings throngs of shoppers from the mainland. ANZ bank has said they may have cost the city $280 million in retail sales.

Even before those final sales figures come in, reporters noticed a striking symbol of Hong Kong's temporary transition from luxury shopping zone to battleground, posting photos on Twitter. The mall area around a Fendi shop was transformed into a first aid station. Posted around Fendi's logo were dog-eared handwritten signs, one reading "1st Aiders Wanted." Outside Coach, meanwhile, was a supply stand for activists.

Post-it: Protesters' main demands are for Hong Kong's chief executive to step down, and for Beijing to relinquish control of the election of their next leader in 2017. Demonstrators have written up demands, thoughts and wishes on Post-it notes and stuck them on a wall outside the Central Government Offices. While some pundits used the generic term "sticky notes," references to 3M's Post-its have appeared in countless news stories and captions. Witness the Los Angeles Times' description of the phenomenon: "Hot pink and tangerine, chartreuse and bright blue, the Post-it notes flutter up the outdoor stairway like thousands of fragile Technicolor butterflies, clinging hopefully to the concrete wall of the government office."

Chow Tai Fook: As police sprayed tear gas at protesters, Hong Kong brand Chow Tai Fook, the world's biggest jeweler, shuttered some locations. There was more fallout to come. The company's deputy head of PR and media, Joanna Kot, posted a Facebook message taunting a woman who had been assaulted during the protests, according to the South China Morning Post. "Molested? Remember not to report to the police; revolution requires sacrifice, fighting for democracy is above the law," the message reportedly read.

The employee resigned, and the jewelery brand posted an apology on Facebook to clarify that "personal words and opinions have no relation with the company and do not represent the company's stand."

Ikea's stuffed toy wolf has become a protest symbol.
Ikea's stuffed toy wolf has become a protest symbol.

Ikea: Months ago, as Hong Kong's protest movement started gearing up, a stuffed Big Bad Wolf from Ikea was adopted as a symbol by protesters. In the latest round of demonstrations, it was spotted hanging from a bridge. What's the meaning? Hong Kong's chief executive, Beijing-backed CY Leung, is nicknamed "the wolf" by protesters. In most markets, the Ikea toy is named Lufsig, but when its Chinese name was pronounced in Cantonese, it sounded similar to an unprintable expletive – which gave it added value as a protest symbol. (The company has since given the toy a different local name.)

The plush toy has reportedly sold out again and again. But from a check of Ikea's Hong Kong web site, it looks like it's back in stock.