Wednesday, 23rd January 2008
A Citroen advertisement appeared in Spanish newspaper El Pais on January 8. It was a giant portrait of Mao with a Citroen car below it. Whatever the creative message was intended in this ad, the partially distorted face of Mao was more than artistic modification (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7190249.stm). Protests from the overseas Chinese community in Spain broke out immediately and quickly the news went on to Chinese Internet portals and blogs. Besides commentaries and interviews, polls were set up in several Chinese portals surveying opinions about the incident. On Sina Finance http://digbig.com/4wghh, the poll result showed that about 70% of the 70,000 who voted considered the ad as an insult and an apology by the automaker was not enough to be excused. Over 77% said they will not buy Citroen cars in the future.
Whatís the problem? Did the automaker mean to offend Chinese and donít want Chinese customers? Surely not. The problem, or the stupidity of the ad creator, was the lack of cultural sensitivity. They also forgot the reality that information in one market can flow instantly across the globe without limitations of geographical borders and that could cause significant damage to its image in another market. It is not unusual in the West that political and historical figures may be used to create cartoon effects. However for many Chinese vandalizing the portrait of the nationís founder is a disrespectful act towards China and the Chinese people. Canít understand? Sit down and think a bit about culture. A simplified culture context includes unique value perceptions, moral standards, social rules, and ways that people communicate, act, and interact. The Chinese culture does not appreciate making fun of ancestors and leaders, no matter how one may criticize or appraise a particular political figureís historical marks.
Had this print ad appeared in a newspaper two decades ago, the consequences could be quite different. It would take a long time for the people in China to hear about it, possibly not be able to see the ad itself at all. The key information as the trigger of the incident might never go beyond the border of Spain. No access, no consequences. The technology and enabling business today that make borderless and timely access to information possible. In the meantime weíd never forget that there are cultural borders where information may have different implications and consequences.
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