Trending milk tea chain Chayan Yuese (茶颜悦色) has fallen under harsh criticism recently in response to its use of sexist jokes in advertising campaigns.
Founded in 2013 in Changsha, Hunan Province, the niche milk tea brand has yet to expand outside the city, but over the years it has won the favor of an expansive local consumer base. According to China Business Network, Chayan Yuese enjoys a favorability rate of over 98% among consumers, whereas China’s leading milk tea brand Hey Tea received a rate of just 91%.
In Chayan Yuese’s contentious advertising ploy, the brand used a local dialectal idiom, “jian louzi” (捡篓子), meaning to pick up a surprise gift out of blue. The advertising copy reads: “There are many beautiful girls in line to buy milk tea. If you accidentally see a beautiful one, you can tell your friend that you had picked up a surprise gift (jian louzi).”
Many netizens took to the web, arguing that the advertising line objectifies women and implies that men should always be on the lookout for a casual fling as suggested by the popular term, ‘pick-up-artist’, or PUA.
“The brand obviously justifies the male gaze. Women do not need a man who stares at her all the time,” said a Weibo user.
This sentiment draws from the ideas of feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey, who contends that heterosexual male viewers often get “a pleasure in gazing and placed women as spectacles to be objectified and viewed.”
On Feb. 19, Chayan Yuese released an apology letter on Weibo, saying “the brand made a mistake in the attempt to make the dialectal idiom appropriate for the scenario, and failed to produce an interesting campaign. We will clarify the line between creativity and respect in the future.”
However, after a short period of peace, the brand grappled with yet another dispute over sexist packaging. On the free teabag sample that the brand previously distributed to customers, a statement wrote: “When you come out for this date, [sex] will surely happen. Use this tea bag to prevent the unbearable situation.” The packaging also included sexual visual elements.
“I thought this is condom advertising! Who would use this kind of teabag?,” wrote a Weibo user.
Following the viral online criticism, the brand released a second apology letter via Weibo on Feb. 20, claiming “the product creativity originated in 2014, and we made several mistakes in our attempt to catch people’s attention by producing sexist slurs.”
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“Humorous” advertising that crosses respectful boundaries is never funny. Breaking moral values in brand marketing will only make a campaign counterproductive.