Things have been quite interesting in China for the past few days. To catch up with what you’ve probably missed, just search for “Diaoyu Islands” or “Senkaku Islands”, and you will know what it’s all about in no time. Anyway, ownership over some uninhabited island stirred up all sort of grudges between China and Japan. On the Chinese side, demonstrations have been given, Japanese flags burned, protests shouted. More than that, Japanese-branded cars have also been trashed, shopping malls and stores burned, Japanese-branded products looted. In Xi’an, the mob even put a siege upon the Zhong Lou Hotel (international hotel in the city’s center), demanding staff to push out all Japanese tourists. All in all, it’s the biggest ever carnival of scoundrel proletarians. But you can get plenty of coverage, with pictures, on that elsewhere. For this blog post, I’d rather talk about some interesting marketing activities in the name of “patriotism”, or nationalism. The two of them are about the same thing in Chinese education system, and are often mixed in daily usage. Let’s not dwell on wordplay. And yes you read it right. “Nationalism” is a positive word in Chinese context. Let’s go on.
Aside from the rational people and the burning, looting mob, there is another group in this great show of Chinese nationalism: brands and companies. “Marketing” is rather simple in definition. Marketing at its simplest is all about putting your message where everyone’s attention is. Right now everyone’s attention is on Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, it’s natural that China’s business world will want to take some benefit from the biggest cultural event in China.
Therefore it’s not strange at all if you take a stroll in Beijing streets these days, and see all sort of seemingly irrelevant places having anti-Japanese banners put up high. Like a massage shop shouting “Diaoyu Islands belong to China!”, or a corner store, where Japanese expats seldom pass by, claiming “Japanese not welcome here”. I don’t think any Japanese person will ever pay attention to these. Expats in Beijing, maybe. The real decision makers in Tokyo? Not in a trillion years. Thus I can only assume such are statements out of the business owners’ true feelings, or a gimmick to make the business stand out by winning favorable attention among local Chinese.
I’d like to share a few specific cases with you.
The picture above could be classified under “truly irrelevant”. A real estate developer in Maanshan (Anhui Province) put up a banner in front of its sales center, saying “[Name of the property on sale] is the territory of [name of the developer]. Diaoyu Islands is the territory of China!” Man, what’s the connection between the islands and the property for sale? I’ve no idea. Supposedly this somehow magically makes the property more desirable? Or it makes the Japanese think twice about claiming ownership?
This one is a garment shop in an unknown city, captured by a netizen. In translation, the poster says “Pattad (supposedly the shop name) uncompromisingly defends China’s ownership over Diaoyu Islands. Anyone customer who shouts ‘Diaoyu Islands belong to China’ will get 15% off, ‘Japan also belongs to China’ to get 20% off.” Relevancy aside, is this calling for a Chinese invasion of Japan? Really?
And this one. The picture’s too dark. I can’t make out what kind of business it is. But the LED banner says “Any customer shouting ‘Diaoyu Islands belong to China’ gets free service!”
This is a hotel in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. The phone number tells. Well you can see what its name is. The tagline in red font says “Tour mountains, tour rivers, tour the whole wide world. Love your country, love your home, love the Diaoyu Islands.” This strikes me kind of funny. Until August 2012, very few in the whole country care about some uninhabited islands. Then BAM! Suddenly you are to love the islands as much as you love your sweet home.
This one is an obstetrics and gynecology hospital somewhere in China. The LED screens says “[Hospital name covered up] protests Japan’s attempt to acquire the [Diaoyu] Islands. The hospital will not serve Japanese women.” Technically this one is more marketing-intended than the ones above. Those were merely trying to gather some random attention to the business, not having any key marketing information at all. But this one is practically saying “this hospital has service good enough to make Japanese clients happy, but we are proudly not serving them”.
This one is a bit on the hilarious side. Oupai, a wooden door maker, produced such a retailer certificate, authorizing a dealer in Fujian Province to “distribute Oupai wooden door products to Diaoyu Islands region of Yilan County, Taiwan Province.” This sounds wrong in a number ways. First, the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China is still unclear. One wants to absorb the other, and the other one doesn’t want to be absorbed. The situation has been in a deadlock for decades. Therefore authorizing a company in Fujian as the distributor in Taiwan doesn’t exactly make sense. And… Diaoyu Islands has almost no population, right? Granting retailer certificate for an unmanned place. Genius. And… as a marketing gimmick, I don’t think a retailer certificate is quite visible to the public?
To seal the story, let’s quote a Sina Weibo microblog update from Feng Jun, the president & CEO of Aigo, a Chinese gadget brand. Among waves of hollering “boycott all Japanese products”, somebody dug up one of his weibo updates from May 15, 2012. It says, after translation: “Aigo has been making digital cameras for almost 7 years, always besieged by nine Japanese brands. Lenovo, Unis and Founder (other Chinese gadget brands with camera line) all gave up. I wanted to quit, but friends told me ‘as long as Aigo is out there, those Japanese brands just have to price their products cheaper in China than in Japan, so our peer Chinese could save billions (of Chinese Yuan) from buying Japanese products.’ Last year the camera division of Aigo posted a loss of 30 million Chinese Yuan [US$4.7 million], covered by profit from other divisions. But (due to our presence), Sony lost 40 billion Chinese Yuan [US$6.3 billion]. What shall we do next?” While I’ll give Aigo enough face by saving my comment on its camera range, those who are interested could have a look around Aigo’s official website, and check user reviews around the web. Although I believe the delusional and boastful weibo update says quite something by itself.
At Illuminant we don’t applaud marketing fueled by nationalism, because such deeds are short-sighted, ill in ethics, and could backfire any time. For political purposes we’d remind Chinese business owners, at least those protesting in passion, to direct the message to *whom it should go*. On this side of the dispute, every single Chinese person knows the Diaoyu Islands should belong to China, and there is no need to be reminded of that. A “protest” is supposed to be an outcry to the one whose deed has caused, or is about to cause you harm.
The Japanese government might actually consider a collectively-signed Chinese request, provided such thing is ever produced.