My Take

Lancome has only itself to blame for public relations fiasco

Cancelling a concert by Canto-pop star and democracy activist Denise Ho because of criticism by Beijing-backed paper a PR disaster for cosmetics giant

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2016, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 June, 2016, 10:08am

Lancome should have stuck with Kate Winslet, Julia Roberts and Emma Watson. Even Zhang Ziyi, Fan Bingbing and Gong Li would do. Sure, they all cost a lot more than Canto-pop singer and democracy activist Denise Ho Wan-sze. But the public backlash over the cosmetics giant’s cancellation of a free concert with Ho has probably inflicted far greater cost than jetting one of those superstars to Hong Kong.

Denise Ho controversy: protesters march despite Lancome closing Hong Kong stores

The reputational damage is incalculable. Not only has the company suffered a backlash from Hong Kong netizens angry over its apparent kowtowing to Beijing, but the furore has become international news, covered even by The New York Times, the BBC and Le Monde.

There is no right or wrong answer as to whether a multinational like Lancome should have hired, or stayed away from, politically active stars like Ho, who also recently visited the Dalai Lama. If you want to be edgy and appeal to younger locals, you can probably do that. But if you want to stay on Beijing’s good side, you should definitely stay away.

What’s a definite no-no is to hire someone like Ho and then promptly ditch her after an official mainland newspaper complains. That not only makes you look spineless and unprincipled, it shows you are incompetent, which is more unforgivable in the corporate world.

Hong Kong Canto-pop star Denise Ho calls on Lancome to explain concert cancellation

Listerine has also hired Ho for some of its promotional campaigns, and it is sticking with her. It’s been praised for showing courage in standing up to Beijing. I just think they know what they are doing.

The Lancome fiasco has created the perfect opportunity for Ho and her pan-democratic friends to raise hell.

Fourteen local political groups are campaigning against Lancome and its parent company, L’Oreal.

Ho has accused the French firm of “kneeling down in the face of a bullying hegemony”.

“This is not only about me. This is about those who believe in freedom, justice and equality. This is about those precious universal values that every individual yearns for,” she said in a statement.

“This is about what kind of a world we want to live in. It is unjust when people have to be punished for speaking out, standing up and seeking for these rights we consider to be basic human rights.”

Fine words – and just about every international corporation’s nightmare.