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Asia Insider: Brand Lessons

By: T. Joseph Lin, PhD
Posted: August 27, 2008, from the May 2007 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 4 of 4

Actually, a similar problem erupted two years ago when P&G was accused of using a dangerous chemical, sodium hydroxide, in their SK-II products. The company immediately responded by telling the truth that a small amount of sodium hydroxide was used for pH adjustment and insisted that the product was safe, refusing to offer a product return or refund. The controversy died out a few months later. This time, the company also knew that its products were safe but offered a cash refund. The hysteria this act generated resulted in the loss of P&G’s SK-II sales and cut off a valuable channel of communication with customers. This further angered the misinformed public, resulting in an even a bigger publicity nightmare for the company.

Clearly, P&G faced a very sensitive and difficult public relations problem in a foreign country. It is well to remember that sometimes it is impossible to please everybody. By being afraid of offending the government, P&G ended up offending its customers. In ancient times, it could be dangerous to tell an emperor bad news, but a failure to tell the truth could also invite the emperor’s anger. China is changing rapidly, and its people are realizing that the customer really is “king.” Making a mistake in knowing which king to heed can be costly, but in this complex world, knowing who the real king is can be a difficult task.


  1. TJ Lin, International Review, Frag. Jrnl, 2 (2002)
  2. Eastweek, 20–24, September 27, 2006