Explainer: How the Lazada TikTok debacle began and how far it went
A TikTok clip that was supposed to be funny and encourage shoppers to buy clothes on Lazada backfired and resulted in many netizens boycotting the shopping platform instead.
The controversy was sparked when a clip created by transgender influencer Aniwat Prathumthin aka Nara Crepe Katoey hit the net to promote Lazada’s 5.5 sale.
Lazada Group was founded in 2012 and fast became a leading e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia, with operations in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.
In fact, it became so popular in Thailand that Alibaba Group bought its operations here and made it the regional flagship for Alibaba Group.
Aniwat, who made a name for herself by campaigning against the lese majeste law, sparked an uproar when she posted the clip on her TikTok page. The clip also featured fellow influencer Thidaporn “Nurat” Chaokuwiang, who plays the part of a disabled woman of noble birth dressed in a traditional costume. The clip shows Nara accusing Thidaporn of stealing her clothes.
However, instead of encouraging people to buy clothes, this so-called campaign drew harsh criticism and calls for people to boycott Lazada immediately.
As of May 6, the #BanLazada hashtag in Thai social media had attracted up to 102,000 retweets, with many netizens saying they had deleted their Lazada app. Many netizens also offered information on how Lazada accounts can be deactivated.
Some netizens cried foul because they considered the clip offensive to disabled people, while royalists accused the influencer of making an oblique reference to a Royal by the way Thidaporn was dressed and even her hairstyle.
The furore drew immediate apologies from Intersect Design Factor, the advertising agency that had hired the two influencers, and from Lazada.
The shopping platform issued an apology on the morning of May 6 saying the incident was “an unacceptable mistake and “a result of our oversight”.
“Our brand does not condone the mockery of others including those with disabilities. It is absolutely unacceptable and a breach of Lazada’s value of being respectful and inclusive,” Lazada said in its apology.
Intersect Design Factory also said it had no intention of mocking the disabled or any individual in particular.
However, Aniwat’s refusal to issue a public apology or show regret has only added fuel to fire.
In a television interview, the influencer was heard saying that “anyone has the right to wear a traditional costume”, referring to the attire Thidaporn was dressed in.
She also said that the so-called reference to a Royal was imagined by the netizens.
The issue further escalated when Army chief General Narongpan Jitkaewtha announced on Monday that he has banned members of all military units to stop buying goods from Lazada. He also banned all Lazada delivery trucks and motorbikes from entering Army compounds.
Then on May 10, he announced that the Lazada boycott was aimed at protecting the monarchy.
The Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force followed suit.
The government also joined in, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha voicing concern about the clip on May 7 and noting that Thais love and respect the monarchy.
The Digital Economy and the Society Ministry also instructed the Police Technology Crime Suppression Division to check if the TikTok clip violated any laws.
Then on May 11, Prime Minister’s Office Minister Anucha Nakasai said the clip may be in violation of Section 22 of the Consumer Protection Act.
This clip and the public sentiment it sparked reverberated so much that the Chinese Embassy stepped in on May 13 to say the ad was “unacceptable”.
In a Facebook post, the embassy said it was aware of the “incident” and “shares the same view that the content in the video is unacceptable”.
However, despite calls for a boycott, it is business as usual for Lazada. So far, only shops of royal projects like Doi Tung, Doi Kham and Chitralada have suspended their sales via the platform. No other leading brands have joined the boycott.
Citing case studies overseas, some marketing experts have said that such debacles only lead to boycotts for a short period and consumers soon forget the issue and return to their old shopping habits.