While China is set to take the final leap from the world’s second largest economy to the first, China already possesses the world’s largest purchasing power parity (PPP). This means that if one is selling a product with international appeal, chances are that your primary target market is going to be Chinese consumers. While China is industrially self-sufficient and with Chinese cars continuing to accelerate through major Asian and soon international markets, Chinese have nevertheless developed a taste for quality foreign products in addition to high level products produced domestically. When it comes to a quality international product, Mercedes-Benz has long been associated with excellence in motoring.
However, it seems that some people at Mercedes-Benz’s marketing department seem rather ignorant about their target market. The car company recently released an advertisement quoting the separatist agitator known as the Dalai Lama. Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has lived in India, but his globe trotting television appearances have made him a household name throughout the world, even among people who do not realise that he is a politically motivated separatist rather than a simple spiritualist.
In 1998, even the New York Times was forced to admit that the Dalai Lama’s organisations had received money from the CIA, a fact that had long been known to Chinese authorities who are aware that the US and India have used the figure as a soft-power weapon through which to threaten the territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China.
This is why the following advertisement by Mercedes-Benz caused such offensive to the Chinese motorists whom the German company was attempting to woo.
China has reacted strongly to the offensive post on Mercedes-Benz’s official Instagram. Many Chinese took to social media to express their disgust with Mercedes-Benz, forcing the auto giant to issue multiple apologies. According to Mercedes-Benz officials,
“We will promptly take steps to deepen our understanding of Chinese culture and values, our international staff included, to help standardise our actions to ensure this sort of issue doesn’t happen again”.
It appears that when it comes to understanding China, western companies who are happy to sell their goods to prosperous Chinese consumers, have yet to fully understand the culture whose wealth they seek to profit from. This appears to be the case in spite of the fact that a simple web search about the issue in question would have revealed that China takes challenges to its territorial integrity as seriously as all other nations.
If a company as large as Mercedes-Benz can make such an error, smaller corporations ought to take note of the issue so as to avoid causing offence among the world’s biggest consumer market. China is opening more and more doors of opportunity for foreign investors and businesses, however, China demands that all individuals and companies doing business in or with China show respect – a respect that is of course, reciprocated from the Chinese side.
While China does not plan to take any punitive measures against the German car giant, when it comes to branding, Mercedes-Benz just took a long drive in reverse gear.