SHANGHAI – Leica Camera AG of Germany is the latest foreign company to spark a backlash in China over marketing material seen as offending local sensibilities, this time for a video that re-creates scenes seemingly from China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The reaction was swift: After appearing on various websites Thursday, by Friday morning China time the word Leica in English or Mandarin had been banned from the microblogging platform Weibo for “violating laws, regulations or the Weibo community guidelines.” Some Weibo commenters lambasted the company, while others left candle emojis — a common symbol of remembrance of victims of Tiananmen Square, an incident Beijing has scrubbed from the country’s official history.
The five-minute video, titled “The Hunt,” celebrates Western photographers documenting conflicts in foreign countries with their Leica cameras, even as they’re threatened with personal harm. While the commercial jumps between different scenarios, its main thread follows a photographer who captured the iconic image, known as “Tank Man,” of a lone Chinese protester standing in front of a line of army tanks.
Leica joins a growing list of foreign consumer brands that have found themselves on the wrong side of political or cultural sensitivities in China, as the world’s biggest group of consumers flex their might. Companies from Marriott International Inc. to Delta Air Lines Inc. have had to apologize for listing Tibet and Taiwan as nations on their websites, while Italian luxury house Dolce & Gabbana is still blocked from local e-commerce sites after an ad deemed to mock Chinese shoppers went viral last November.
The camera-maker — unlike Dolce & Gabbana — did not release the video on Chinese social media channels. Still, the film could have costly implications for the German company as the Chinese government is intensifying its campaign to scrub the domestic internet ahead of the 30th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown this year.
Like many western brands, Leica is counting on the growing disposable income of the Chinese middle class to drive sales. Its cameras are sold officially in 13 locations across China, according to its website, and it has a tie-up with Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co. for its camera technology to be used in Huawei smartphones.
Leica has reportedly distanced itself from the video, which was produced by agency F/Nazca Saatchi Saatchi. Although the video ends with a flash of the Leica logo, company spokeswoman Emily Anderson told the South China Morning Post that it was not an officially sanctioned marketing film commissioned by the company.
Leica “must therefore distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn,” Anderson said, according to SCMP. Anderson did not immediately respond to emails or calls Friday.
The agency said in a statement on Saturday that it has worked for the representative for Leica in Brazil since 2012, adding that it has “immense pride” over the commercial that was developed together with its client.
F/Nazca “would never harmed it’s huge reputation by creating, producing and airing a work without the proper approval of it’s client,” it said, declining to comment on Anderson’s comment as its work with the brand is restricted to the Brazilian market.