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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • 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

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  • Varezhka And why exactly was it that Tesla decided not to coat their stainless steel bodies, again? My old steel capped Volant skis still looks clean without a rust in sight thanks to that metal vapor coating. It's not exactly a new technology.
  • GIJOOOE “Sounds” about as exciting as driving a golf cart, fake gear shifts or not. I truly hope that Dodge and the other big American car makers pull their heads out of the electric clouds and continue to offer performance cars with big horsepower internal combustion engines that require some form of multi gear transmissions and high octane fuel, even if they have to make them in relatively small quantities and market them specifically to gearheads like me. I will resist the ev future for as long as I have breath in my lungs and an excellent credit score/big bank account. People like me, who have loved fast cars for as long as I can remember, need a car that has an engine that sounds properly pissed off when I hit the gas pedal and accelerate through the gears.
  • Kcflyer libs have been subsidizing college for decades. The predictable result is soaring cost of college and dramatic increases in useless degrees. Their solution? More subsidies of course. EV policy will follow the same failed logic. Because it's not like it's their money. Not saying the republicans are any better, they talk a good game but spend like drunken sailors to buy votes just like the libs. The sole function of the U.S. government is to take money from people who earn it and give it away to people who didn't.
  • CecilSaxon Sounds about as smart as VW's "SoundAktor"