In China, the Mini Cooper division of BMW has come under fire for allegedly discriminating against Chinese visitors last week when giving out free ice cream at the Shanghai auto show. The episode caused a whirlwind of fury on the Chinese internet, where consumers blasted the automaker for allegedly treating foreigners preferentially. Several people demanded a brand boycott.
Videos that were widely shared on social media on Thursday appeared to show two Chinese staff at the Mini booth telling ethnic Chinese visitors that the complimentary ice cream had ran out before removing a tub from the fridge and giving it to a Western man shortly after. This sparked outrage.
On Chinese microblogging site Weibo on Thursday in the afternoon, Mini China, which is owned by BMW in Germany, apologised, claiming the promotion was intended to give participants a “moment of sweetness”. “We have upset everyone as a result of our shoddy internal management and the staff’s negligence of their responsibilities. We deeply regret that, and we promise to do better moving forward,” the message read.
The public’s rage, however, which continued to rule conversation on social media, was not greatly reduced by the remark. Mini China apologised once more on Friday morning, claiming that the Westerners in the films who received the ice cream were actually members of its employees. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the company claimed to have distributed 300 tubs of ice cream per day to customers who stopped by its booth. It stated that it also set aside a small amount for its staff.
“The four or five foreigners in the video that you can see are our coworkers. They also had on their ID badges, according to the statement. It urged the public to have more compassion for the two Chinese women who distributed the ice cream, claiming that they were inexperienced and young.
The explanation did not, however, put an end to the debate. Many online users questioned why the foreigners did not wear uniforms or otherwise identify themselves as employees of Mini after being sceptical of the company’s assertion. Others claimed Mini was lying and making snide remarks about their intelligence.
With 31,000 likes, the top response on Weibo read, “You really don’t know how to write [an apology] do you.” Someone else urged: “I implore you, let’s spend some money and hire a new PR team.”
After the United States was exceeded roughly ten years ago, China is now BMW’s biggest market. BMW Group stated in a statement that it supplied 792,000 vehicles to China last year, compared to 362,000 units for the United States and 878,000 units for Europe. Major Western businesses have come under increasing scrutiny in China in recent years as customers there have grown more sensitive to perceived slights and nationalist sentiment has increased thanks to official encouragement.
One vlogger was inspired by the incident to distribute ice cream in front of Mini’s auto show stand. He told the Chinese media site Jimu News, “I was just irritated, and I just delivered it to Chinese people.
On the other hand, other social media users urged restraint and logic. Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of the state-owned newspaper Global Times, argued that we shouldn’t exaggerate a problem to the point where it becomes a philosophical or ideological issue. “Let the personnel take responsibility for their mistakes, and as much as possible, let things go back to normal in the future. Let’s avoid making other vendors anxious as a result,” he continued.