BMW MINI China’s ice cream marketing treat turns into PR nightmare

The BMW-owned automotive marque MINI has been in the hot seat, swamped with accusations over discriminating against Chinese consumers during the media preview of the ongoing Shanghai Auto Show on 19 April.

The controversy arrived when a video clip filmed by a visitor on-site showed two staff members giving out ice-cream at MINI’s exhibit area but were seen telling a Chinese visitor that the sweets were out of stock. However, soon after, a foreign visitor who also showed interest in the treat, was offered an ice cream with the two staff members handing over the product with wide smiles.

The camera person then went on to challenge the two salesgirls, only to be told that the availability of the ice cream is limited, and all ice cream boxes were soon removed. Following the episode, the Shanghai-born ice cream maker Luneurs who supplied these treats issued a statement on 20 April, saying “the brand only provides the product and is not involved in the on-site management in any way. The two concerned staff members are not employed by them.”

MINI China also issued an apology through its official account on Weibo (China’s answer to Twitter) on 20 April, explaining that “the ice cream offer is intended to ‘sweeten’ the visiting experience for all.” It continues to say, “However, due to our inadvertent administrative errors, it has resulted in some unpleasant situations. We sincerely apologise…and will improve our internal management and training.”

Another statement was released on 21 April. It added that “a small portion of the total 300 cups of ice cream provided each day is reserved for staff members, and the four to five ‘foreigners’ seen in the video are our colleagues who had their work badges with them.”

Unfortunately for MINI China, the apology, failed to turn the public’s furious sentiment around. The video clip circulating on social media, propelled the hashtag “BMW MINI apologises” to garner a staggering 360 million views on Weibo at time of writing.

Criticism flooded the brand’s comments section, accusing MINI China of discriminating against Chinese consumers. Some also sarcastically suggested the latest drama contradicted with the remarks made from Jochen Goller, President and CEO of BMW Group Region China, who reiterated “China is the home for BMW” during his four-minute speech in Chinese at the event on 17 April right before the exhibition kicked started on 18 April.

Others joined in on the heated discussion with pictures showing examples of AI-generated apologies, including those from ChatGPT, as they were unsatisfied with how MINI China’s PR were dealing with their complaints, viewing the short post apology as “insincere”.


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