If you have read the news in the past couple weeks, then you have heard about the political uprising that is going on in China right now. As we speak, pro-democracy student protesters are barricading the streets of Hong Kong in hopes of influencing a change in the strict regime that is currently in place. During these protests, certain global brands have emerged as being symbols of the so called revolution. I found it odd that such large companies were being used as symbols of a democratic revolution (Imagine Occupy Wall street protesters holding up McDonalds golden arches). Here are some of the brands involved.
Amidst the chaos and confusion, many restaurants and shops closed down. McDonalds, however, stayed open the entire time, providing protesters with a safe haven where they could eat, use wifi and they even served toothpaste in the morning with breakfast. The protests happened over a big Chinese holiday where a lot of shopping takes place (ANZ bank estimates 280 million dollars in sales lost). All over twitter photos were being posted of shopping malls being taken over and put to use. Outside of a Fendi store, protesters set up a first aid stand. Similar stands for supplies were found outside of Coach.
A large controversy arose when a Facebook post from Chow Tai Fook, an enormous jewelry company, attacked a woman who had been sexually assaulted during the protests. Head of PR and Media, Joanna Kot, reportedly said “Molested? Remember not to report to the police; revolution requires sacrifice, fighting for democracy is above the law,” The comment was followed with an apology statement from the company.
Ikea also has inadvertanly been involved in this conflict. As the protests started, a big bad stuffed wolf that Ikea sold started being used as a symbol of the protests to represent the big bad Chinese government. The toy was reportedly being sold out at numerous locations as it is still being spotted in protests.
As interesting as all of this is, the most intriguing part to me is how these brands are affecting markets OUTSIDE of China. Right now, I have several friends studying in Shanghai. When I asked them if they had heard anything about the Hong Kong riots, they said they hadn’t and if they had, it was through other people, certainly not through any form of media. In the case of McDonalds, by just being open and a safe place for protesters to rest, they create a sense of community within Hong Kong. McDonalds is also appealing to the outside viewer, the people who are actually hearing about these protests. We may now be more inclined to support McDonalds because they are supporting people who are fighting for democracy. And how are we hearing about it? Through social media. It is a genius PR move. Ikea was happy to let their wolf be a symbol of revolution. This is because (aside from obvious profit reasons) people are seeing their product in the midst of a world event and their product is now a part of history. Ikea is now a part of history, again, because of the documentation that social media has provided.