Each year on March 15, the Consumer Rights Day in China, the state-run China Center Television (CCTV) puts on a special show to expose scam business, corporate malpractices and, most importantly, defective products. The show is known for picking at well-known brands, both domestic and international ones. An exposé on the show usually results in long-lasting impact on sales and even stock prices given its large viewership in millions.
This year, the first big fish that CCTV went after was Apple, but a careless (or not?) mistake made by Hong Kong star Peter Ho has successfully turned Chinese consumers’ anger towards CCTV, instead of the allegedly guilty Apple. This is how the story began….
CCTV first started to fire at Apple in its special 3.15 show late on Friday. Apple was accused of providing downgraded post-sale customer service to its Chinese consumers, compared with its consumers in other markets. More specifically, when consumers in China bring in iPhones for repair, they receive a replacement iPhone with the old one’s back cover, whereas in other markets, it’s a whole-phone swap, without parts from the old one. As a result, Apple doesn’t need to extend the phone’s warranty period because the back cover is from the old one. Another accusation is that Apple only offers a one-year warranty for its iPads while Chinese law sets that computer products have to offer at least a two-year warranty.
All seems fine and fair up to this point. In fact, many Chinese netizens were already ready to bite, with many claiming that they will never buy Apple products again given its unequal treatment to Chinese consumers. Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblog, is where the story got a sudden twist.
At 8:26 Friday night, Hong Kong movie star Peter Ho was caught to post the following message on his Weibo that he would soon regret:
“#315 on the move# Cannot believe Apple is playing so many dirty tricks in customer service. As an Apple fan, I feel hurt. Won’t you [Apple] feel ashamed in front of Steve Jobs? Won’t you feel ashamed in front of those young people who sell their kidneys for your products? You dare to bully consumers simply because you are a famous brand. Need to send out at about 8:20 pm.”
Oops…need to send out what around 8:20 pm? The above post was soon deleted, and a new one without the last “send out at 8:20 pm” sentence was re-sent at 8:59 pm. Careful Weiboers also found out that Peter Ho wasn’t alone, he was just the most careless.
At 8:20 pm sharp, 郑渊洁, famous writer of kid’s story, wrote on his Weibo: “#315 on the move# I’m very shocked after learning about Apple’s double –standard customer service in China versus in other markets. Chinese consumers, who pay Apple the same or even higher prices for their products, receive downgraded customer services. Hope the bite on Apple doesn’t take away its heart.”
At 8:23 pm, another Weibo celebrity, 留几手, with over 3 million followers, post on his account: “#315 on the move# Apple, you’ve made a ton of money in China, and yet, you offer two-year warranty in the US, but only one-year warranty in China. You re-start warranty period after phone replacement in the US, but not in China. You are an American company that promotes fair play, so why are you practicing double standard in China? You are in big trouble.”
Seeing the sudden turn, Chinese netizens started to question the credibility of CCTV’s consumer rights show: “Are these Weibo celebrities paid to bash Apple?” “Is this a failed PR move from CCTV?”
Peter Ho was the first to react, by saying that his Weibo account has been hacked and it was not him who post the Apple-bashing tweet. 郑渊洁 was next who clarified that he wasn’t “bribed” by anyone. Guess how many believed in these explanations? Nobody.
On the contrary, many Chinese netizens accused Sina Weibo and CCTV of conspiring against Apple. Some suspected that Samsung was behind all of this. Others speculated that CCTV may do so in an attempt to blackmail Apple. Netizen 楚陌君 commented: “CCTV has been working really hard to try to get Apple to buy their advertising.” 洪晃ilook, controversial publisher and critic, thought that “3.15 Consumer Rights Day” should be called “Blackmail Pay Day.”
Blackmail or not, many Chinese netizens were disgusted by CCTV’s move to go after big names like Apple and Volkswagen in its annual consumer rights show. Like famous Weibo ID 作业本 commented: “The 3.15 consumer right show is much more disgusting than the companies it exposed. At least Apple still offers post-sale customer service. How about those victims of Sanlu’s toxic baby powder? Has anyone taken care of them?”
北京厨子, another vocal critic on Weibo, commented: “’Which exposed company is the most surprising to you on this year’s 3.15?’ My answer is: the state-run television of our country, which turned a blind eye to the thousands of dead pigs floating on the water source of the country’s biggest city, but put all emphasis on a cell phone company who doesn’t replace back cover for its customers. I don’t know where the heart of this country go.”
After all the mess, CCTV will probably soon come up with an explanation that no one buys. But for now, 8:20 pm has become the new Internet meme in China.
All the following Weibo posts criticized Apple for its double standard in China, but all of them used either an iPhone or an iPad to send out the tweet.