Why Mercedes-Benz’s Dalai ad irritates Chinese audience
Published: Feb 07, 2018 10:23 PM

Mercedes-Benz, the German luxury car manufacturer, struck a nerve with Chinese consumers on Monday by quoting the Dalai Lama in a social media advertisement. In a post on Instagram, Mercedes showed one of its white cars along with a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama: "Look at the situations from all angles, and you will become more open." Underneath the picture was the line: "Start your week with a fresh perspective on life from the Dalai Lama." The post soon drew wide criticism from Chinese netizens and Mercedes issued an apology on Sina Weibo the next day. 

Dalai Lama is a separatist who's trying to split Tibet from China. Secession and sabotage activities by the Dalai Lama group violated the fundamental interests of Tibetans and are unacceptable to the entire Chinese people. But hailed as a spiritual leader, many of his quotes and sayings are spread in the West.

Using a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama, Mercedes apparently challenged the bottom line of the Chinese people. It's hard for Chinese netizens to believe a company like Mercedes, which has entered China for decades, doesn't understand the sensitivity of the Tibet issue. The company seemingly played a petty trick on China's bottom line. This is unacceptable to the Chinese people.

Mercedes quickly deleted its post and apologized after arousing strong dissatisfaction among Chinese consumers. Even so, the incident will tarnish the company's image and could also affect its sales on the Chinese market. Mercedes sold a total of 610,965 cars in China last year, an increase of 25 percent compared to 2016. The size of the market is believed to be the clincher.

Voices supporting the Dalai Lama can still be heard on the international public opinion. Some of his sayings are easily accepted by religious people and comfort stressful people in modern society. This is the main reason he exercises a spiritual influence. There is a possibility that in future other foreign companies or people will follow suit with Mercedes in challenging China over the Dalai issue. We should make them understand via the Mercedes case that they should not stir the feelings of the Chinese people over such matters.

The issue of sovereignty is where China's core interests lie and cannot be challenged. Foreign companies must have basic political sensitivities and respect the feelings of the Chinese people when conducting business in China. Otherwise, they cannot win the Chinese market. It is hoped Mercedes and other foreign companies will become more cautious in selecting advertising slogans in future and avoid any other controversial behavior that can be interpreted as supporting Tibet's independence.

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