The German carmaker is the latest major company to feel the heat of growing consumer nationalism in China.
Mercedes-Benz removed a video ad from a Chinese social media site, state media said after the clip was swept up in a charged national debate over depictions of Asian-looking features from foreign companies.
The video was posted on Mercedes-Benz’s official Weibo account on Saturday and later removed due to public backlash, the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper reports.
“The female model’s makeup looked like slanted eyes and once again sparked a heated discussion from network users with many blaming the makeup for reflecting Western stereotypes about Asian people,” the newspaper said Tuesday.
The report included a screenshot of the video showing a woman apparently Chinese, though Bloomberg News has not seen the full version of the ad. Emails and phone calls to Martin Sauber and Juan Zhou, China’s press representatives for Daimler AG, were not returned Thursday morning.
The episode makes Mercedes-Benz the latest target of consumer nationalism in China, having previously given Dolce & Gabbana, Hennes & Mauritz and others a blow. Last week, Chinese social media platforms broke out over allegations that Walmart Inc. had stopped selling goods from Xinjiang in their Sam’s Club grocery stores in the Asian nation. Christian Dior SE stopped using an image of a model in November that state media said “lubricated Asian women.”
Chinese Internet users have recently discussed how the models’ eyes appear in advertisements. The Chinese company Three Squirrels Inc. recently apologized for ads featuring model Cai Niang Niang wearing makeup that highlighted the slant of her eyes, the South China Morning Post reported.
The model hit back at the Twitter-like Weibo service, saying, “With small eyes, am I not Chinese? I completely agree with patriotism. But creating big problems out of normal relationships has become a morbid obsession.”
The Communist Party censors
The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid, targeted the Gucci fashion brand in an article late Wednesday about the appearance of a female model in an advertisement for a handbag.
“Gucci turned out to have a model with an Asian look with small eyes, ‘unconventional’ makeup, an excessive nose ring and a leather whip in hand,” it said.
The article pointed out that while the model could be seen in a photo on Gucci’s official Twitter account, only her hand holding the item could be seen on the company’s Weibo. Twitter is among the foreign social media services blocked by censors of the ruling Communist Party.
In 2018, Mercedes-Benz apologized for quoting the Dalai Lama on Instagram, a move that the Global Times also criticized. The carmaker had attached a quote from the Tibetan spiritual leader to a post that showed a sleek luxury model – “Look at situations from all angles and you will be more open.”
Daimler said last week that it would cut its stake in Denza electric car joint venture with China’s BYD Auto Industry Co. after years of weak sales. BYD will own 90% of the company and Daimler 10% after a share transfer that the companies plan to complete by mid-2022, the Mercedes-Benz manufacturer said.
The joint venture was launched in March 2012. Its weak profitability has been a concern at Daimler for years, although sales of their Mercedes luxury cars continued to rise in China.