On June 4th, French cosmetics giant Lancôme released a statement distancing itself from pro-democracy Hong Kong singer Denise Ho. Lacôme’s move came in response to outraged mainland Chinese netizens who accused the brand of implicitly supporting Hong Kong independence by sponsoring a performance by Ho. Unfortunately for the company, its statement has generated little if any positive response in the mainland, but has managed to provoke outrage among Hong Kong netizens. Now, both sides are calling for a boycott of Lancôme.
The saga began when Party mouthpiece the Global Times posted a thread on its Weibo account attacking the brands Listerine and Lancôme for collaborating with Ho, who the government tabloid referred to as “a supporter of Hong Kong poison” (in Mandarin, “Hong Kong poison” is a pun that stands for “Hong Kong independence”). The Global Times cited a Facebook post made by Ho where she celebrated an upcoming concert to be held on June 19th, sponsored by Lancôme, rejoicing over the work opportunity after being — to cite Ho’s post — jobless for a period of time.
Ho’s unemployment stems from 2014, when she was one of the final protesters to be dragged away by police from in front of the government headquarters in Admiralty at the tail end of the Umbrella Movement. Since that time she has been blacklisted from performing in the mainland and lost her record deal. Ho says that she puts freedom ahead of cash and met with the Dalai Lama just last month to prove it. She also became Hong Kong’s first openly gay mainstream female singer in 2012.
In response to the Global Times attack, Lancôme quickly released a statement on Weibo and Facebook saying that Denise Ho is not a spokesperson for their brand, and asking netizens to “forgive the confusion caused.”
However, mainland netizens remained unmoved by the company’s contrition, bombarding their Weibo page with negative comments. “Lancôme you’ve really messed up,” said one Weibo user. “I hope you pull out of the Chinese market soon,” wrote another.
Meanwhile, Lancôme faces equal discontent from Hong Kong netizens. On Facebook, Hong Kong web users have posted comments saying that “We are sorry to say that Lancôme should NOT be the brand for Hongkongers” and “shame on you.”
Finally, on June 5th, Lancôme canceled the sponsored performance, citing unspecified “safety reasons.”
Soon after, Ho released a statement demanding that Lancôme’s French head office give an account of recent events, writing:
“Freedom, justice, and equality have always been the pursuits of Hong Kong people. If we are punished for these pursuits, it is no longer just about me, but a serious corruption of our values. When even such a global brand as Lancôme has to kneel before this kind of oppression, we cannot but take this problem very seriously.”
At the moment, Lancôme’s Facebook page has received over 50,000 angry emoticons from Hong Kong users. Many have remarked that Lancôme could have had just one problem, but now they’ve got two. Listerine is continuing to use Ho in its Facebook cover photo, where the caption reads: “What does it mean to be bold? It means more than words.”
First Pokemon, then Lancôme. What international brand is going to piss off Hong Kong next?
By Victor Fung