By on February 6, 2018

Think back. Waaay back — to 11:19 a.m.

In that article, we chronicled Fiat Chrysler’s deft handling (and perhaps, planning) of a historical Super Bowl Ram commercial that sparked a fierce social media backlash, all thanks to the spot’s use of dialogue from Martin Luther King, Jr.

We told you, all that time ago, and with all the certainty of someone knowing the sun will rise again, that the next automaker might not find itself so unscatched by a marketing blunder (if indeed you view the Ram ad as a blunder). Well, that time has come. Mercedes-Benz just offended a whole country.

The country in question is every automaker’s retirement plan: China. With its rising middle class growing ever-fonder of private vehicle ownership, China is fertile ground for automakers — especially premium, status-signalling brands.

According to Reuters, Mercedes-Benz decided to start the week with an inspirational (aspirational, really) “Monday Motivation” post on Instagram featuring a photo of a white C-Series coupe sitting on a windswept beach. And what better way to appear deep than pasting a quote from a spiritual leader?

“Look at the situations from all angles, and you will become more open.”

Wise words, indeed. And how about that Benz? Boy howdy…

Unfortunately for the German automaker, the quote originated from the Dalai Lama — spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, lover of robes, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and noted bad joke recipient. He also led a rebellion against China in 1959, seeking independence for his Tibetan homeland. The rebellion’s failure led to his exile by the Chinese government, which still rules the disputed territory.

To make a long story short, to many Chinese, the Dalai Lama is not the inspiration figure celebrated in Western circles. After seeing the post, Bloomberg reports, China’s Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper slammed the automaker.

Quick, to the damage control boat!

“We will promptly take steps to deepen our understanding of Chinese culture and values, our international staff included, to help standardize our actions to ensure this sort of issue doesn’t happen again,” the automaker said in a statement, not long after deleting the offending post.

On its official Chinese Weibo social media account, Mercedes-Benz wrote, “We fully understand this incident has hurt the feelings of Chinese people, including Mercedes-Benz’s employees in China,” adding that the post contained “extremely mistaken information.”

Sure, China can be criticized for a good number of issues, including the ruling party’s shocking history of human rights abuses, but this is business. When wooing the world’s hottest emerging car market, your grovelling game had better be as good as your marketing game.

[Image: Daimler AG]

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34 Comments on “It Didn’t Take Long for Another Automaker to Screw Up a Marketing Ploy...”

  • avatar

    Why would an automaker feel any particular need to pander specifically to the Chinese?

  • avatar

    Daimler kowtows to Chinese imperialism, desperate to not offend Chinese consumers.

    Meanwhile, some American corporations run ads showing how “woke” they are, apparently not caring if they offend half the U.S. population.

    • 0 avatar

      “Meanwhile, some American corporations run ads showing how “woke” they are, apparently not caring if they offend half the U.S. population.”

      I’m still trying to figure out why “half of the U.S. population” would be offended by someone expressing their awareness of racism and classism in today’s society. Then I decided that if that’s the sort of thing that offends people then perhaps those are people that we shouldn’t worry about offending.

    • 0 avatar

      The difference is an autocratic govt very determined to obliterate all hints of dissent. Do you think that the average Chinese citizen is as incensed about the Dalai Lama as the govt is? Is M-B groveling before the Chinese consumer or the Chinese govt? At the same time, companies in America do not fear govt backlash over their ad campaigns, regardless of which half of the population gets angry. And seriously, it’s hard to get the U.S. population to pay attention to much of anything beyond sports and pop culture. Ad campaigns, woke or not, only register offense with a minority of citizens on either end of the spectrum.

  • avatar

    Not just cheap labor.

    World’s biggest market—lots of wealthy (and aspiring wealthy) Chinese customers.

    China’s economic clout is now consistent with it’s cultural wealth.

    That’s right. China has been around for over two thousand years. What other nation can make that claim?

    No, I’m not Chinese–or even Asian. Just sayin’.

    But it couldn’t happen to a nice company.

  • avatar

    Terrible shame. They could have quoted Funkadelic and the Chinese would have been eating out of their hand, but they had to choose the one guy the Chinese find worse than Hitler.

    Super stupid bought a five cent bag, thought it was coke but it was skag.

    Words to live by, Mercedes.

  • avatar

    “It is most unwise to poke the sleeping panda, Grasshopper.”

  • avatar

    Perhaps if the Chinese want to step up and be one of the, if not the most eminent superpower, they shouldn’t get their panties in a wad over a quote?

  • avatar

    If they can’t at least respect the Dalai Lama they just need to get over themselves.

  • avatar

    The horror.

  • avatar

    Hmm, when I saw the tri-star I figured Mercedes–France was going with some sort of “Surrender to our Unstoppable Sales Blitzkrieg!!” campaign. Too old school?

  • avatar

    By apologizing to China MB totally insulted me. And entire Nobel prize committee too.

  • avatar

    Other craven-hearted companies to go along with MB were mentioned in th same Reuters report including Delta and Marriott:

    “Last month, firms including Delta Air Lines and Spanish apparel maker Zara were reprimanded by authorities for listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on their websites. China claims sovereignty over both areas.

    Marriott International had its website in China shut down by regulators after it caused a similar uproar, inviting boycotts from Chinese consumers.”

    All companies act like cowards when they stand to lose 29 cents or more with no comeback.

  • avatar

    Sounds like right before Volkswagen came out with their Das Auto campaign, they had a commercial on for like two days – I saw it once – where at the end of the spot, a German voice comes on and says, “It’s vot ze people vant!”

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Meh, China is N Korea exceptin they buy more crap

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