“Borderline brilliant,” was a term used to describe the new third-party iPhone charger buyback program recently started by Apple, which has taken the Chinese state-run media’s ongoing negative publicity crusade and turned it on its head to generate goodwill among China’s iPhone owners.
The company’s new program allows users to bring in a non-Apple iPhone, iPod, or iPad charger and exchange it for one in the store at half the normal price, a move that comes in response to numerous reports of iPhone users in China being electrocuted by third-party charging devices. There are several rules in place to avoid abuse of the system: users must also bring in their own registered Apple device, and are only allowed one exchange per gadget.
Apple’s image benefits in numerous ways from this arrangement: it not only gets to tout the necessity of its own chargers in order to prevent bodily harm and even death, but also comes across as willing to sacrifice extra profit out of genuine concern about the safety of its customers.
Even more notable is the fact that this new program demonstrates that the brand has found a way to creatively lash back at the Chinese media’s ongoing anti-Apple campaign, which been accusing the company for months of a host of transgressions against customers in China, including everything from unfair warranty policies in China to “pornographic content” in the iPhone app store. Xinhua’s reports of the tragic charger deaths also appeared to exploit the news to call the iPhone’s safety into question, as initial reports were not clear on whether any third-party devices were used during the accidents.
Apple’s decision represents precisely the kind of marketing ingenuity that may be vitally necessary for foreign companies to succeed in China in the coming years as the government and state-run media increasingly call brands into question for a host of reasons. As recently as this past week, BMW and other foreign automakers have come under fire in China for pricing, environmental, and safety issues, so it’s likely that no international companies are exempt from the wrath of the Chinese media. However, it’s clear that brands are more than willing to put up with the hassle, and are likely to look to Apple in the future as an example of how to confront these issues head-on.