Weibo vs Leica Camera AG: Social Networks and the loss of control over corporate brands

An advertising video titled “The Hunt” and aimed at promoting the “Leica experience” raised controversy in China because of a frame showing a lens that mirrors the Tank Man picture portraying the activist that in Tien An Men Square blocked a PRC Tank just refusing to give way.

As a result for what has been perceived as an infringement of the chinese social networking platfrom Weibo terms and conditions, the word “Leica” (both in English and Chinese) is banned from the platform.

Furthermore, the partnership between Leica and HwaWei to establish a Chinese presence of the German camera manufacturer seems to having being jeopardized, at least for now.

Leica Camera AG has been quick and adamant in distancing itself from the video and the human rights community that initially praised the video now criticizes the step back of the company.

What lessons can be learnt from this story?

Firstly, when you enter the mud and damp of a social network, you’re not going to leave it anymore: your brand is “owned” by the platform that decides whether you live or die.

Secondly, the choice whether to allow or remove a content is not a legal issue anymore, rather being a matter of business and appropriateness. Therefore human rights is not a term of this equation. By the way, this Weibo vs Leica match is a fair anticipation of what we, in the EU, will experience when the infamous copyright directive will start being enforced.

Thirdly, it is a mistake to think of companies as devoted to stand for human rights just because it is the right thing to do. Human rights are just a marketing asset to be exploited as soon as it works, and to be trashed when it doesn’t anymore. Company are meant to raise profit.



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