Details make all the difference.
McDonald’s in Taiwan has removed an online video in light of backlash alleging the company’s message contradicted its pledge to follow the “One China” principle.
Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged against “foreign interference” in China’s relationship with Taiwan. Beijing views Taiwan as a province that has no right to international recognition as a separate political entity and has increased pressure on multinational companies to refer to Taiwan as part of China.
The commercial was originally published on Dec. 6. McDonald’s Taiwan removed it 12 days later, after criticism grew:
The commercial, broadcast on YouTube, showed a student’s exam admission ticket stating her nationality as Taiwanese. She drops the ticket on the street and it’s run over by a truck, before being washed clean by a water sprayer. The ad then rewinds and the student is shown eating an Egg McMuffin, known as a Man Fu Bao — which reportedly has a similar pronunciation in Mandarin to “full of good luck.”
The idea was to link students to this product during the stressful exam period but a scene in the ad showed a student ID, which claimed the student’s nationality was Taiwanese. The ad angered a lot of users of social media in China, who thought the ad was a sign of supporting Taiwan independence.
Though McDonald’s Taiwan has remained mainly silent about the ad, McDonald’s China said the commercial wasn’t meant to spark controversy.
McDonald’s in China agreed with its Taiwan counterpart, saying the ad simply conveyed an idea to boost morale of examination taking students in Taiwan, but admitted the advertising company which produced the ad failed to pay close attention to the subtle background across the Taiwan Strait.
Comments on internet bulletin boards on Monday accused McDonald’s of violating Chinese law by supporting independence for Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.
Some called for a boycott of the restaurant chain. Others said McDonald’s, whose mainland franchises are owned by a group that includes the Chinese Cabinet’s investment arm, should be expelled from China.
As backlash grew, McDonald’s China has issued an apology on social media—even though it’s a different company from McDonald’s Taiwan, which published the commercial.
The Drum reported:
… McDonald’s Taiwan and McDonald’s China are owned by two separate companies and despite this, due to the uproar in China, McDonald’s China has now released a statement via its Weibo channel.
Focus Taiwan reported:
“We regret about the ad which had stirred up such an unnecessary misunderstanding,” McDonald’s in China said on its Weibo page, “We always hold a solid “one China” stance and we are determined to continue to support China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“The video has been withdrawn and we are grateful to the attention and supervision in society,” McDonald’s China said.
Consumers have argued that McDonald’s China has unfairly received criticism and shouldn’t issue a mea culpa, but the incident shows how important it is for PR pros to be prepared for a sudden crisis of any kind, even if your organization wasn’t the party that misstepped.
Focus Taiwan reported:
… Other Chinese netizens urged their angry compatriots not to be angry with McDonald’s China by boycotting its products, saying that McDonald’s China’s statement to express regret over the incident was unnecessary.
… [S]ome Taiwanese netizens have ridiculed their Chinese counterparts, pointing out that vows to boycott and complaints made against McDonald’s in China were attacking the wrong company.
The incident also highlights the necessity for combing details in marketing messages, especially when those messages are posted online.
The global and open nature of social media platforms mean that, inevitably, other demographics and consumer groups will see your message, so potential pitfalls should be considered.