It Didn't Take Long for Another Automaker to Screw Up a Marketing Ploy

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
it didnt take long for another automaker to screw up a marketing ploy

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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2 of 34 comments
  • OneAlpha OneAlpha on Feb 07, 2018

    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!"

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Feb 07, 2018

    Meh, China is N Korea exceptin they buy more crap

  • SCE to AUX A plug-in hybrid requires two fuels to realize the benefit of having that design. This is where the Volt fell down.It could be either:[list][*]A very short-range EV[/*][*]A long-range ICE with mediocre fuel economy[/*][*]An excellent mid-range vehicle that required both a plug and gasoline.[/*][/list]If you wanted a short-range EV you got a Leaf (like I did). If you wanted a long-range car with good fuel economy, you got a Civic/Elantra/Cruze/Corolla. In my case, we also had an Optima Hybrid.I'd personally rather have a single-fuel vehicle - either gas/hybrid or electric - rather than combine the complexity and cost of both into one vehicle.
  • Bobbysirhan The Pulitzer Center that collaborated with PBS in 'reporting' this story is behind the 1619 Project.
  • Bobbysirhan Engines are important.
  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.