Media & Gaming

Pulling their ads

Firms taking sides in Hong Kong protests pay the price across the border


For six consecutive weeks, Hong Kong protesters have taken to the streets to demand the “full withdrawal” of the controversial extradition bill (see WiC457) in spite of the government saying the legislation is “dead”. Last Sunday was no different, with protesters marching in Shatin, a largely residential area. Although the demonstration began peacefully, the atmosphere became charged later on and there were violent confrontations with the police.

The clash ended with 22 people hospitalised. Half of them were policemen and one of them had a finger bitten off.

Local broadcaster TVB, too, has endured its share of rancour from the protesters. The TV channel complained that demonstrators attacked one of its reporters and a photographer. In a minute-long news segment, TVB referred to the attackers as “thugs” multiple times.

Hong Kong activists have long mocked TVB, which counts state-backed investment firm CMC as its biggest shareholder (see WiC424), dubbing it ‘CCTVB’ in a sarcastic nod to China’s state broadcaster CCTV.

Over the last few weeks, TVB has come under renewed attack for showing “heavy bias” in its coverage of the extradition bill, says HK01, a news portal. Its coverage, protesters complained, largely focused on the disruption the protests have caused and downplayed the political frustrations that have driven people to the streets in record numbers.

Hong Kong’s media industry watchdog also admitted to having received about 12,000 complaints about the station’s reporting of the controversial bill.

Angry protesters have gone on social media to lobby companies to withdraw advertisements from the free-to-air network, which reaches 70% of the Hong Kong population. Their plea appears to have made an impression. Last week, Japanese sports drink maker Pocari said it had pulled ads from TVB because of its “biased” news coverage.

The same week, tissue paper brand Tempo and casual dining giant Pizza Hut both said they’d ceased advertising with TVB as well, though Pizza Hut claimed that the termination was part of its “usual practice of reviewing the effectiveness of different channels”; and Tempo then announced it will still advertise on TVB in future.

The politically-charged boycott, however, has enraged onlookers in mainland China. Many decided to weigh in on the matter too, and accused the likes of Pocari of being “pro-Hong Kong independence”.

Pocari, the Global Times warned, should not “take the wrong side” or it will be punished by Chinese consumers. “You [Pocari] support the mobs, get out of China,” a mainland netizen posted. Another wrote online: “Sorry, I’ll never drink it again.”

“I have been drinking Pocari Sweat in the past but little did I know that I was supporting Hong Kong independence. I will stop buying Pocari from now on,” yet another posted. “In my opinion, Pocari Sweat should just retreat from China completely,” thundered a netizen.

The entertainment group behind girl band GNZ48 also said the troupe was ending its partnership with Pocari as it “opposes actions which affect peace and stability in the nation”.

Even Pizza Hut – a company that denied any association between its ad spend and the ongoing political situation – could suffer a backlash across the border, and not just against its restaurants. “Pizza Hut is operated by Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong. The company also owns Mandarin Oriental and Dairy Farm, which controls Mannings in China and 7-11 in Guangdong province. Now I think we all know what to boycott next,” a netizen threatened.

Another firm that is feeling the fallout is Japanese fast food chain Yoshinoya, after some of its Hong Kong employees posted material on its Facebook account that punned in Cantonese against police activities.

Hop Hing, the company that owns the Hong Kong franchise for Yoshinoya, later removed the post from the brand’s social media page. Its chief executive, Marvin Hung, was also quoted as saying that the staff members responsible were fired. And he told Wen Wei Po, the pro-Beijing newspaper, that he fully supported the Hong Kong government in accordance with the law.

The sackings, however, prompted demonstrators to gather outside a Yoshinoya outlet in Hong Kong with anti-management placards.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.