Leica has sparked a huge backlash in China over a short film released by its ad agency in Brazil. The video (warning: strong language) depicts a news photographer covering the Chinese government’s crackdown during pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989.
Titled “The Hunt,” the 5-minute video follows a photojournalist scrambling to continue documenting history from a hotel window in Beijing while trying to evade government authorities.
“We hunt. We chase. We fight. We risk it all,” the photographer’s voice states. “Oddly enough, we spend our entire lives in search of something that, for the most part, simply is not… until it is. And as the grand moment draws near, we smile to ourselves and proudly whisper, ‘I’m a hunter.'”
The film ends with the photographer pointing his camera out of a window. And as he focuses, a reflection of the iconic “Tank Man” photo is seen in his lens.
“This film is dedicated to those who lend their eyes to make us see,” a message at the end of the film reads.
“Inspired by stories of photographers who spared no efforts for everyone to see reality, Leica launches today a new production dedicated to these professionals,” Leica’s Brazilian ad agency, F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, told PetaPixel when the video was released on April 15th. “It is a unique narrative about risk, passion, and history.”
The original upload on YouTube was up for just a few before it was abruptly removed. It turns out Chinese citizens took to social media to criticize Leica for the dramatization, claiming it was an insult to China.
“Get out of China, you are done,” one Weibo user wrote.
Others tried to attack Leica’s collaboration with the Chinese smartphone maker Huawei, which has been prominently using Leica camera technology.
“Do you even deserve to collaborate with our patriotic Huawei?” another Weibo user wrote.
It wasn’t long before the Chinese government stepped in and censored the conversation by banning the word ‘Leica’ in both English and Chinese on Weibo (“China’s Twitter”) — the Communist Party has long censored photos and discussions of the bloody protest, and its efforts have ramped up ahead of the 30th anniversary of the event on June 4th.
Reuters reports that people who tried posting messages with the word ‘Leica’ received “warnings that they were violating laws, regulations or the Weibo community guidelines.”
China is one of Leica’s biggest growth markets in the world, so Leica is understandably now trying to distance itself from the ad — despite what the ad agency originally stated, a Leica spokesperson is now telling the media that the video wasn’t an official Leica film.
“[A] spokeswoman for Leica said that the ad, which ends with the Leica logo, was not an officially sanctioned marketing film commissioned by the company,” the South China Morning Post reports. “‘Leica Camera AG must therefore distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn,’ said [Leica spokeswoman] Emily Anderson […]”
Leica is reportedly working to prevent the film from being shared on its branded social media channels, but the video above is a new copy posted by Leica Brazil. If that copy is taken down, here’s another unofficial copy uploaded to YouTube by an (apparently) angry Chinese citizen.
Update on 4/22/19: F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, the marketing agency behind the video, has released a statement:
F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi has worked for the representative of Leica in Brazil since 2012, developing content for several different media platforms for the client over this time. The agency has created pieces that made history in advertising and became communication cases, such as the commercial “100”, created and produced to celebrate the 100 years of the brand, a work acclaimed around the world and awarded with the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Festival.
The commercial “The Hunt”, launched in Brazil this week, is another among these works that we have developed together with this client and for which we have immense pride and are sure to have delivered a remarkable piece.
F/Nazca, a 25 years agency completed exactly this week, would never harm its huge reputation by creating, producing and airing a work without the proper approval of its client.
Regarding the pronouncement by Leica Europe, since our relationship with the brand is restricted to the Brazilian market, we are unable to comment.
Update on 4/23/19: Leica is now saying that it’s taking legal action over this “unauthorized use” of its brand, despite the marketing agency’s insistence that it made the video on behalf of Leica Brazil.
“[The video] was not commissioned, financed or approved by any company in the Leica Group,” Leica tells The Jakarta Post. “We expressly regret any confusion and will take further legal steps to prevent unauthorized use of our brand.”
Update on 4/22/19: The Leica Brazil version of the video has been taken down.