Last week a Chinese detergent commercial went viral for all
the wrong reasons. In the commercial, a pretty
Chinese woman responds to the advances of an African painter, messy and spotted
with paint, by popping a detergent pod into his mouth and tossing him into the
washing machine.  When the wash cycle is
done, she opens the lid and smiles at the pleasant surprise within—the black
man has been transformed into a light-skinned, young Chinese man.  “Change begins with Qiaobi,” follows.

Thus far the commercial has been viewed on YouTube over 9
million times, and has been shared on social media even more; pundits in the
media have criticized the commercial, with one citing it as “the most racist ad
ever.”

To clear this up quickly, yes, Qiaobi’s advertisement is
racist.  It clearly portrays a Chinese
man as more desirable than a black one.
That’s a fact, not a matter of opinion—the commercial is inherently
racist, plain and simple.

That being said, what might be worse than the actual
advertisement is Qiaobi’s response to the criticism.  The company issued the following apology:

“’[Due to]
the harm that has been caused to members of the ethnic African communities as a
result of the advertisement’s circulation and the over-dramatization by the
public opinion, we hereby express our apology and sincerely hope that the
internet users as well as media will not over-analyze,’ the company said in a
statement. ‘We strongly oppose and condemn racial discrimination.’”

The company
also said it has removed traces of the ad online and hopes “that internet users
and media will not continue to circulate it;” a company spokesperson said “the
foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad.”

This
response is, quite frankly, bad, and might be more offensive than the actual
commercial.  Qiaobi’s statement comes off
as half-hearted, and makes it seem as if they’re not taking the matter
seriously.  Additionally, they’re
deflecting blame onto both the public and the traditional media.

           Here’s what they should have done:

  1. Owned up to their mistake.  Whether intentionally racist or not, Qiaobi’s
    commercial reeks of racism, and has offended a great deal of people.  Rather than deflecting blame onto
    others—traditional and social media—the Chinese company should have taken this
    one on the chin, and issued an apology with no qualifications involved.
  2.  Issued a statement from the top.  This is an international communications
    crisis—it’s a big deal.  Qiaobi is
    issuing public statements and sending our spokespeople to publically comment.  Rather, the CEO of the company should have
    issued a formal, public apology.  This
    would show the world, which is certainly watching, that the Chinese company is
    taking the matter seriously.

In crisis
communications, it’s usually best to own up to your mistakes and apologize,
sincerely, immediately.  This serves to
put out any fires and show the public that you’re taking the issue
seriously.  

A lot of people were offended
by Qiaobi’s advertisement, and their response served to only further offend
them.  It was counter-productive, and
will likely hurt their growth domestically as well as their capacity to expand
abroad.

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Contributor: Jack Haandraadts, Account Coordinator at Marketing Maven