Staff Reporters
Sep 11, 2019

Politics and mooncakes: This year, HK tensions eclipse traditional marketing

As usual, mooncake makers have gone all out this year to sell their sweet, dense treats. But in the run-up to Mid-Autumn Festival 2019, factors outside any marketer's control are impacting brands such as Maxim's and Taipan.

Taipan: Pulled from mainland shelves
Taipan: Pulled from mainland shelves

As Friday's Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, Hong Kong mooncake brands have ramped up their efforts to come up with innovative campaigns, packages and other promotion methods to increase sales. However, the best-laid marketing plans have in some cases been overwhelmed by nationalism, in another example of the ongoing protests in the city splitting Hong Kong and mainland consumers.

Last week, renowned Hong Kong mooncake brand Maxim’s Cakes enjoyed a surge of popularity in the Chinese mainland, with many consumers fighting for what were soon referred to as “patriotic mooncakes”. The brand's product sold out in many places, at least according to Chinese governmental news outlet

Overall, sales of Maxim’s cakes soared 20% compared to the same period last year, the report said, quoting a retail manager in Guangzhou, a southern mainland city near Hong Kong.

“Labeling Maxim’s mooncakes as patriotic has partially contributed to our sales, but what’s more important is Maxim’s high quality and strong brand image,” a mainland supplier of Maxim’s was quoted as saying in the report.

The unexpected sales increase came after an interview in Hong Kong Commercial Daily with Annie Wu Suk-ching, the daughter of the founder of Maxim’s. In comments that went viral on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, Wu expressed her worries about young Hong Kongers being misled because of their lack of a sense of their "motherland".

“Government-related schools should educate Hong Kong kids that they are Chinese, and all schools should sing national anthem and hoist national flags,” she said in the video.

A Weibo topic with the hashtag #LadyMaxim’sWorryingYoungHongKongers gained more than 300 million views as of Wednesday, attracting 26,000 discussions, with most praising Wu and Maxim’s patriotism.

In a following editorial, China’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily praised Wu for her patriotic spirit and for speaking out against the Hong Kong protesters. “Those who harm the close ties between Hong Kong with its motherland will pay a price,” said the editorial, referring to another Hong Kong mooncake brand Taipan Bread and Cake, whose cakes have reportedly been pulled from shelves in the mainland after its founder’s son, Garic Kwok, recently expressed support for protesters on Facebook.

Garic Kwok's Facebook post. Source: Weibo user

Taipan made a statement on Weibo on August 30 asserting that “Kwok’s personal behaviours on Facebook don't represent the company’s stance.” But that statement couldn't appease angry Chinese consumers.

Ecommerce marketplaces Tmall and removed all Taipan products, and supermarkets followed suit, according to a trading manager for Taipan sales in the mainland, as reported by Hong Kong media outlet HK01.

The amount of Taipan products returned to the mainland company is “huge” and the manager said that the company has no choice but to destroy them, as the ordered products can’t be delivered back to Hong Kong, according to the report.

Superficially, Maxim’s won the mainland market and Taipan lost. But in the unprecedented political crisis in Hong Kong, there's always a flip side.

On Facebook, many Hong Kongers said they would boycott Maxim’s while supporting Taipan. For example, a Facebook user commented below Maxim’s post “Leave you to Carrie Lam and other pro-Beijing officials. We’ll not buy Maxim’s products anymore.”

What's worse for Taipan is that many Hong Kong internet users on Facebook urged the brand to pull down adverts from TVB (widely accused of biased, pro-Beijing coverage) or face a boycott. Meanwhile, many people are calling for Hong Kongers to patronize smaller mooncake brands (see below) that have been supportive of the protests.

Characters on a mooncake offered by a small shop read "Withdraw extradition bill, otherwise protesters won't go home."


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