Leica draws China backlash with video invoking Tiananmen crackdown
The five-minute video, titled “The Hunt,” celebrates western photographers documenting conflicts in foreign countries with Leica cameras.
Leica Camera AG said it had nothing to do with a promotional video that prompted a backlash against the company in China for partially focusing on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.
The video "was not commissioned, financed or approved by any company in the Leica Group," the company said in an email. "We expressly regret any confusion and will take further legal steps to prevent unauthorized use of our brand."
The five-minute video, titled "The Hunt," celebrates western photographers documenting conflicts in foreign countries with Leica cameras. While the commercial jumps between different scenarios, its main thread follows a photographer who captured the iconic image, known as "Tank Man," of a lone Chinese protester standing in front of a line of army tanks in Beijing. The video, which ends with an image of the Leica logo, was produced by Sao Paulo-based advertising agency F/Nazca Saatchi Saatchi, which said it was working with Leica in Brazil.
China has scrubbed information about the Tiananmen protests, when troops opened fire on pro-democracy protesters, from the country's official history. Reaction to the video was swift after it appeared on various websites Thursday. By Friday morning in China, the word Leica had been banned from the micro-blogging platform Weibo in both Mandarin and English. Some Weibo commentators lambasted the company, while others left candle emojis -- a common symbol of remembrance of victims of the massacre.
F/Nazca agency said in a statement on that it had "immense pride" over the commercial, which it had been developed together with its client, Leica in Brazil. The agency had worked with the Leica unit since 2012.
The agency "would never harm its huge reputation by creating, producing and airing a work without the proper approval of it's client," the F/Nazca statement said.
Leica joins a growing list of foreign consumer brands that have found themselves on the wrong side of political or cultural sensitivities in China, as the world's biggest group of consumers flex their muscle. Companies from Marriott International Inc. to Delta Air Lines Inc. have had to apologize for listing Tibet and Taiwan as nations on their websites, while Italian luxury house Dolce & Gabbana is still blocked from local e-commerce sites after an ad deemed to mock Chinese shoppers went viral last November.
The camera maker -- unlike Dolce & Gabbana -- did not release the video on Chinese social media channels. Still, the film could have costly implications for the German company as the Chinese government is intensifying its campaign to edit the domestic internet ahead of the 30th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown this year.
Like many western brands, Leica is counting on the growing disposable income of the Chinese middle class to drive sales. Its cameras are sold officially in 13 locations across China, according to its website, and it has a tie-up with Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co. for its camera technology to be used in Huawei smartphones.