Almost a year to the day since Dolce & Gabbana walked (inadvertently, one must assume) into the ongoing Hong Kong-China tensions by being seen to favour mainland Chinese customers over local Hong Kong-ers, Korean cosmetics company Laneige has managed a repeat performance.
Laneige’s speedy and apparently sincere apology (a lesson for Lance Armstrong?) saved it the ignominy of D&G-style street protests. Yet the firm failed to confirm how this incident had happened ie. was this one-off customer service stupidity or a business policy accidentally leaked. Many seem to think the latter, and its Facebook page continues to be a virtual battle-ground run by its ‘fans’.
A source close to the D&G saga revealed to me that its sales in Hong Kong were barely if at all dented by the protests, perhaps due to the high proportion of its sales to mainland Chinese visitors. It is unclear to what extent Laneige has been hit financially.
In truth, while social media-initiated incidents can be ugly and tricky to manage, most peter out fairly quickly in today’s volatile and fickle environment, especially if the mob gets its apology and/or withdrawal of the campaign (eg QantasLuxury, Langham Hotel) together with some sincere and public humble pie about the lessons learnt.
More important, and while two swallows don’t make a summer, it seems not too far a stretch to suggest that D&G and Laneige’s actions were not isolated incidents, pointing to a possible industry-wide issue.
Hong Kong-based retailers need to realise that any policy or action seen to favour mainland Chinese will now almost certainly be outed and should be changed. Only then will the protests and social media firestorms die down.