Named and shamed: how BMW countered criticism on China’s annual consumer TV show

    Crisis averted: BMW took swift action to address consumer concerns after China’s annual consumer rights TV show slammed its 520Li model for producing 'disturbing' noises.
    BMW's 520Li model, designed and marketed primarily for the Chinese market, is part of BMW’s 5 Series lineup. Photo: Shutterstock
      Published   in Consumer

    What happened

    BMW came under scrutiny when an annual consumer rights television program in China, 315 Gala, criticized the German automaker’s 530Li model, designed for the Chinese market, for emitting disturbing noises from its transmission shaft.

    The show, created by China Central Television (CCTV), airs every year on World Consumer Rights Day, March 15, and exposes fraudulent or unethical business practices.

    BMW was the only international brand mentioned during this year’s program.

    Following the show, BMW China issued an apology on Weibo and stated that the noise does not affect driving safety. It assured consumers that the noise could be resolved through a repair and pledged to cover all related costs if clients decide to take this path.

    Jing Take:

    Established in 1991, the 315 Gala aired its 32nd edition this year.

    The program is influential because of its longevity and reach on national television.

    This year’s broadcast boasts an audience of 70.88 million. Since the show on Friday last week, the hashtag “315gala” has generated 1.56 billion views on Weibo. Additionally, the hashtag “BMW apologizes for 315 exposure” (宝马就315曝光道歉) has garnered over 62.81 million views on the microblogging platform.

    Given this extensive exposure, many domestic and international companies closely monitor the gala for issues that could cause reputational damage.

    Several prominent brands have been called out by 315 Gala, such as Apple, which was accused of discriminatory warranty services in 2013, and Nike, which came under fire for false advertising in 2017. The most recent international brand to come under scrutiny was luxury fashion label MaxMara, which in 2021 was accused of using facial recognition cameras in one of its Shanghai stores to collect customer data without consent.

    BMW seems to have averted a crisis this time, as evidenced by the fairly positive comments under its apology post on Weibo. User Chazhaxiaoke (@茶渣小柯) remarked, “Even though the response came after being reported, BMW responded promptly with a proper attitude towards resolution, which is also acceptable.” Another user, Dianjugeshuodiandongche (@电驹哥说电动车), added, “Taking immediate action to resolve problems can turn crisis into opportunity.”

    The car company’s response provides two key lessons for brands facing a public relations issue: respond quickly, and offer a feasible solution to any problem raised at no cost to customers.

    To mitigate the risk of reputational damage, brands would be well advised to keep an eye on 315 Gala. By staying vigilant and being responsive, brands can effectively preserve their reputation and uphold consumer trust, which is increasingly important in China.

    The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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