As the tension between mainland China and Taiwan intensified following the “surprising” landing of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the region on 2 August, nationalistic sentiment has been heating up with closer public scrutiny on brands’ activities in the domestic digital space, putting more pressure on businesses who rely on the lucrative mainland market.
On 5 August, two snack brands have garnered mass attention on China’s largest microblogging site Weibo for very different reasons. Taiwanese F&B company Want Want has received nationwide praise after publishing a post reiterating its “firm stance on the One China Policy” while calling itself “a goodhearted Taiwan brand” and pleading the public not to “falsely” boycott the brand.
The post was soon circulated online with prompt action being taken by savvy Internet users to dig out the online activity history of the brand and its founder Cai Yanming. Netizens were pleased after discovering the brand had consistently shown its patriotism over the years with evidence including a hospital established in Hunan in 2002 that had dispatched 16 medical staff to support Hubei in 2020 when the area was at the height of the COVID outbreaks, and “a track record” public statement made by the founder priding himself in being Chinese.
As a result, Want Want jumped to the top search of the day on Weibo with the brand hashtag garnering more than 250 million views and several other relevant topics also drawing in tens of millions of views. A buying frenzy followed as Internet users rush to Want Want’s live stream room to show their support.
However, chocolate bar brand Snickers, under the American company Mars, descends the hot search list around the same time with an apology. This came after Internet users discovered the brand classified Taiwan as a country on its official page promoting its latest collaboration with the Korean hit boy band BTS, where it says the event is “only available in the following countries” with Taiwan among the three listed. In an official statement published by Snickers China on Weibo, it “sincerely apologises for its inaccuracy” and promises that actions have been taken to prevent the recurrence of similar incidence. It also added that “Mars always respects China’s sovereignty”.
Despite the swift response, it doesn’t stop the public from turning their back on Snickers with a list of other brands under the Mars umbrella being passed around the online space as a reference for a wider boycott. With the controversy continuing to ferment, a new hashtag “Foreign brands must respect One China Policy” began trending, which we see played out through the contrasting fates of Want Want and Snickers amid the China-Taiwan conflict.