What Exactly Happened?
According to CNN, in March 2017, Lotte Group agreed to hand over a golf field to the South Korean government for deploying the THAAD system, which is a U.S. long-range missile defense system. The South Korean government claims that the main purpose is to deal with the nuclear threat from North Korea.
However, the system is equipped with a radar system that is capable of detecting all the activities that happen in Chinese airspace. To respond the growing U.S. and its allies’ anti-missiles capability that may cripple China’s limited nuclear counterattack ability, Chinese news agencies published many articles to drive people’s awareness of the danger that comes with THAAD deployment. Chinese people quickly responded to the unofficial sanctions and started boycotting all Korea-related products. Since Lotte Group sold land to the South Korea Government, they suffered more loss than any other Korean company in China.
The message of advocating the boycott of Lotte products went viral on Chinese social media, especially on Weibo. Due to the same company name spelling in Chinese characters, Rakuten Global Market, a Japanese company, has been bothered by angry customers that claim Rakuten has connections with Korean brand Lotte. People leave Hate words on Rakuten’s official Weibo account, which caused very bad impacts on their e-commerce business.
How Rakuten Responded?
To settle the friendly fires that were supposed to go to Lotte, Rakuten responds angry Chinese customers in a timely manner. Basically, they used 4 strategies to pacify the customers.
1. An official statement that sticks at the top of posts. This measure ensures that the message is authentic and clear. It helps customers be aware of what exactly Rakuten is before they spread hate words on their site.
2. Undermine the orthodoxy of the fake information and promptly reply the people who are still being confused. This measure will ensure that the fake information cannot stand long. And prompt replies will solve customers’ worries and increase their favorability of the brand, making them lean to believe what the brand says.
3. Ease the tension by using cute words. Acting cute will make the brand more like a victim rather than a perpetrator. The reason why pandas are so adorable is because they look cute and act cute. Many people don’t even want to believe that pandas do kill sometimes.
4. Get the words out through influencers. In the image below, an influencer retweets Rakuten’s official statement, commenting that people have trouble recognizing the difference between Rakuten and Lotte. This kind of earned (or maybe paid) exposure makes the statement more credible.
Rakuten’s fast response to the crisis is admirable because of its effectiveness. The message generated a lot of earned media exposure on Weibo. Unexpectedly, as most of the Chinese customers actually haven’t heard of Rakuten, the brand awareness of Rakuten has also been driven by the crisis.
What If Another Crisis Happens?
There’s always something that you cannot expect from happening. Even though China, South Korea, and Japan are close neighbors, there are always some disputes over territory and history. The relationships among these countries are not that stable as many people think. So, this kind of crisis may not be avoidable but we can definitely prepare for that.
I believe that Rakuten should have PR department to develop a series of emergency measures for any possible impact from the diplomatic disputes. And when the crisis is about to happen, marketing department should adjust their approach guided by the crisis solution provided by the PR department. Generally, It is PR’s job to handle the crisis, but PR department should work closely with other departments to create a joint solution that minimizes the bad impacts.