Lancôme is facing threats of a boycott and negative backlash from consumers in both Hong Kong and mainland China over its association with a singer and actress known to support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Canto-pop singer and actress Denise Ho was slated to perform at a Lancôme-sponsored event in Hong Kong on June 16, according to the star’s official Facebook page. On Saturday, Chinese state-backed newspaper, Global Times, posted a message on Sina Weibo that sparked thousands of negative responses on the social media platform about Ho’s connection to the beauty brand. Subsequently, Lancôme Hong Kong posted messages on its Facebook account stating that Ho is not a spokesperson for the brand and canceling the event due to “safety reasons.”
A Lancôme Hong Kong spokeswoman declined to provide further comments beyond the Facebook statements.
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A spokeswoman for L’Oréal, Lancôme’s parent company, in Paris had no additional comment, either.
“We have received tip-offs from netizens that Listerine and Lancôme, both popular brands on the Mainland, have recently invited Denise Ho — a Hong Kong and Tibet independence advocate — to promote their products in Hong Kong. What do you guys think?,” the Global Times asked on Weibo.
In response, some Weibo users called for a boycott of Lancôme products and questioned whether they should continue to buy products from any other brand under L’Oréal‘s umbrella.
On Weibo a user with the handle @Zhong Hua Xiao Ya Gao wrote: “I am willing to lose my favorite Lancôme products, but should I boycott all of L’Oréal? I am a big fan of YSL, so it would be a shame.”
Weibo user @Ma Hua Su Xin Tang wrote: “Now, in addition to the other brands I despise, I will not use Lancôme.”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong social media is rife with backlash against the beauty brand for canceling the concert.
“So who are you expecting to cause safety concerns? Is it the Hong Kongers or the Mainlanders? Is that how you see your customers, as potential rioters? I dare you clarify, Lancôme,” wrote Gareth Tang on the brand’s Facebook page.
Ho issued her own response to Lancôme on her Facebook page. The star said she was asking the brand’s French headquarters to explain its reasoning behind the decision, adding that Lancôme “seriously misled the public” and harmed her reputation.
“Freedom, justice, equality have always been the ideals of Hong Kongers but now if we insist on these we are subjected to this inexplicable punishment,” she said. “Is this really the kind of society we want? Companies, other than chasing profits, also have a moral responsibility.”
This September will mark the two-year anniversary of the pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong, sparking violent clashes between demonstrators and police. The protests heaped further pressure on the city’s retailers, which were already grappling with a protracted slowdown in sales.
Tensions between Hong Kongers and big-spending mainland Chinese have been simmering for years as Beijing has asserted its political power over the Special Administrative Region. Back in 2012, protesters assembled at a Dolce & Gabbana store in Hong Kong after a shop employee allegedly barred a Hong Kong resident from taking a photo outside the store. At the same time, press reports contended that Dolce & Gabbana did not, in turn, restrict mainland Chinese tourists and foreigners from taking photos.
Tie-ups with celebrities in China can be tricky business. Back in 2008, Dior China dropped ads featuring Sharon Stone after the actress made controversial comments following a massive earthquake in Sichuan.
In an interview widely disseminated on YouTube, Stone said “the Chinese” had been unkind to Tibetans and the quake might have been karmic retribution for China.