Mercedes-Benz’s latest Chinese promotional campaign has come under fire from portions of the Chinese internet for featuring stand-up comedian Yang Li, who became famous (and controversial) for her “man-hating” jokes on the Chinese show Rock and Roast.
Published on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo on October 14, one of Mercedes’ short promo videos shows Yang Li walking the red carpet at a Vogue event before getting into a car made by the German luxury brand.
Screengrab via Weibo
Although Yang Li did not say a single word in the video, the footage didn’t sit well with some Weibo users, as Li is best known for bringing issues of misogyny in China into the spotlight while poking fun at fragile male egos.
According to Red Star News, some users threatened to boycott Mercedes by switching to other luxury car brands like Audi and BMW. Others argued that featuring Yang Li in its video campaign was disrespectful to the brand’s male consumers.
In response to the backlash, Mercedes restricted viewing access to the video on Weibo by making the clip available to just its followers on October 17, three days after it was initially published. According to one Chinese news source, the brand also allegedly filtered comments so that only those approved by the account would appear.
Things got worse for Mercedes after the hashtag ‘Mercedes Benz’s Yang Li video controversy’ (#奔驰杨笠视频引争议#) began trending on Weibo, with netizens divided on the automaker’s response. The hashtag had garnered more than 150 million views at the time of writing.
Some users were disappointed in Mercedes for caving to the pressure online.
“Mercedes is quite short-sighted,” one user noted.
“Mercedes should have openly supported Yang Li. Its brand reputation would have been much better if it did. Level-headed men wouldn’t be offended by her,” wrote another.
The discussion soon got heated as more users shifted their focus to Yang Li and gender equality.
One netizen posted, “As a Chinese man, I don’t think Yang Li’s jokes are inappropriate. Her jokes reflect real problems in our society. As men, we should reflect on ourselves.”
User @街猫Koryilli shared pictures of the Mercedes she just bought, captioning the post with: “I don’t usually share this kind of stuff, but I am doing it now because some men think they are the only target consumers of Mercedes.”
Others quoted a report highlighting women’s purchasing power in the luxury car industry, revealing that in 2018, 50.49% of Mercedes’ customers were females.
Some, however, remained critical of Yang Li. “I still don’t like Yang Li because she created tension and profited from her polarizing effects,” said one user.
Yang Li’s office issued a statement in response to the controversy:
“Yang Li was only attending an event sponsored by Mercedes. She does not have any business relationship with Mercedes-Benz. To protect Yang Li’s rights, we will take legal actions against any libel or slander.”
Why Mercedes published a video (that was essentially an advertisement) with someone that it does not have a business relationship with is beyond us, but the automaker presumably had its reasons.
This is not the first time a brand has found itself caught up in a social media storm over a commercial with the polarizing comedian. Earlier this year, Intel also took down an ad because of complaints from male netizens.
Cover image via Weibo
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