Lancome caught in HK-China crossfire

Singer Denise Ho being arrested in December 2014 for taking part in the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. On Sunday, Lancome abruptly cancelled a publicity event in Hong Kong at which she was to have performed.
Singer Denise Ho being arrested in December 2014 for taking part in the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. On Sunday, Lancome abruptly cancelled a publicity event in Hong Kong at which she was to have performed.PHOTO: APPLE DAILY

Cosmetics brand cancels event featuring HK pro-democracy singer after Chinese backlash

Things are looking ugly for French cosmetics brand Lancome, which has become the latest victim of the ongoing imbroglio between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese.

The brand, owned by beauty care giant L'Oreal, on Sunday abruptly cancelled a promotional event in Hong Kong featuring a local prodemocracy artist, citing "possible safety concerns".

The move comes after Chinese state media and netizens were up in arms over singer Denise Ho's involvement, threatening a boycott. Ms Ho participated in the Occupy movement in Hong Kong in 2014 and has met Tibet's Dalai Lama.

Distrust between Hong Kong and China is at its highest since the 1997 handover, following the failure of electoral reform, the Occupy movement and the disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers.

In recent months, an emerging pro-independence movement in the city has further inflamed tensions.

Lancome announced the free event last week, to have been held on June 19 in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island. Ms Ho later said on Facebook that she would be performing.

On Saturday, the Beijing newspaper Global Times, in a post on social media platform Weibo, queried her involvement, pointedly saying that Lancome - which is popular in China - was inviting Ms Ho, "a Hong Kong and Tibet independence advocate", to promote its products in Hong Kong.

It also said that mouthwash brand Listerine had hired Ms Ho as a spokesman.

The next day, Lancome said on its Facebook page that Ms Ho was not its spokesman. It later cancelled the event.

In response, Hong Kongers are now also saying they will blacklist the brand. Lancome's Facebook post has since chalked up 22,000 angry reactions, with comments in Chinese apparently deleted. Those in English remained intact.

One user, Candy Kan, wrote: "No one in Hong Kong will ever use your product again. Your two statements reflect how utterly stupid your management is by killing the brand within a day. Not because of Miss Ho but due to your disrespect to the people of Hong Kong."

A spokesman for Lancome Hong Kong, when contacted yesterday, said it has no further comment.

While celebrities who espouse political views at odds with Beijing's have long been penalised on the mainland, such as being banned from performing there, this latest incident suggests that markets outside the mainland are also feeling the pressure.

Lancome is not the first company to be caught in the crossfire.

In 2012, clothing line Giordano came under fire when its price tags and notices in some stores contained only simplified Chinese and English for the benefit of mainlanders. Hong Kongers use the traditional Chinese script.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Lancome caught in HK-China crossfire'. Print Edition | Subscribe