Think back. Waaay back â€” 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 automakersÂ â€” 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 â€” 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-runÂ Global TimesÂ 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-Benzâ€™s employees in China,” adding that the post contained â€œextremely mistaken information.â€�
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]