With the internet, brands, especially multinationals, now operate on a global stage with full international visibility; as such, catering to regional political and social pressures while upholding a coherent brand identity worldwide is becoming an increasingly delicate operation.
Some media commentators have observed that in choosing to value the mainland’s 1.3 billion consumer base over Hong Kong’s 7.3 million, L’Oréal-owned beauty brand Lancôme failed to anticipate the worldwide-scale of the backlash its decision could (and did) trigger.
The situation unfolded last week, when Lancôme cancelled a promotional Hong Kong concert following criticism of its billed headline act, Cantopop singer Denise Ho, by China’s nationalist Global Times.
The state-run Chinese media outlet voiced criticism of Ho due to her pro-democracy activism, lambasting Lancôme's endorsement of a figure “who supports Hong Kong independence and endorses the ringleader of Tibet independence.”
In an apparent bowing to this pressure and the threat of a boycott among Chinese consumers, Lancôme cancelled the concert: a move which was met with widespread global criticism, attracting media attention from major world news outlets such as the Financial Times, CNN, Le Monde and the BBC.
Two petitions against the decision were launched - one in Hong Kong, the other in France - and Lancôme was forced to close its Hong Kong stores for a day in the face of protests.
The head of the Canadian Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CCTFA), Darren Praznik, previously explained to Cosmetics Design that we are now seeing the rise of the truly global consumer.
“People travel in greater numbers and in greater frequency than ever before, so they are purchasing goods and services in different jurisdictions,” he said. “They have the internet; they communicate in ways they never have before. They have media everywhere.”
The response to Lancôme's concert cancellation robustly confirms the global nature of today’s business landscape; a situation the contentious singer Ho herself was quick to point out.
“I am quite shocked that a global brand such as Lancome would succumb to the pressure from Chinese tabloid news for the Chinese market,” she told the BBC in an interview.