The local franchisee of venerable Japanese beef bucket purveyor Yoshinoya has severed ties with an advertising firm over a Facebook post characterized as “humiliating the police” by a local pro-Beijing news outlet.
The post in question, promoting Yoshinoya’s Japanese-style fishball hot pot, made a winking reference to a police operation on Tuesday night in which dozens of riot police showed up to a “Lennon Wall” in Tai Po to take down a handful of fliers containing the personal details of a cop who had been filmed hurling abuse at anti-extradition protesters during a clash a few nights before.
The seemingly outsized police response to a few sheets of paper quickly drew the ridicule of Hong Kong netizens, who took to referring to the police involved as “paper-tearing dogs” — “dogs” being an increasingly common insult for the police force amid the city’s ongoing protest movement.
The Cantonese pronunciation for “paper-tearing dogs” (“si ji gau”) is strikingly similar to that of a cylindrical style of fishball, something that did not escape the notice of netizens — or Yoshinoya’s social marketing team.
In a now-deleted post, Yoshinoya appeared to get in on the fun, saying, “Want to eat si ji gau? It’s not just available in Tai Po.”
The clever bit of viral marketing was met with approval by young Hongkongers, who called on their compatriots to “eat Yoshinoya together.” But the humor was apparently lost on Hung Ming Kei, card-carrying member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and CEO of Yoshinoya franchise-holder Hop Hing Group Holdings.
Hung told pro-Beijing news outlet Ta Kung Pao today that his company had terminated its contract with the unnamed ad agency responsible for managing Yoshinoya’s social media presence, saying the agency had made the post without the parent company’s approval and that the agency employee responsible for the post had been fired.
Seemingly falling over himself to squander the buzz generated by the post, Hung went on to say that he wholeheartedly supported the Hong Kong government, and had even participated in recent “support the police” campaigns.
The reaction online was predictably swift and negative, with netizens storming the Yoshinoya Facebook page to criticize the company for being “pro-government.”
“I wanted to say this for so long, Yoshinoya in Hong Kong tastes awful!” one commenter (who has obviously never had a hangover) said.
“So ‘loyal to the Chinese government’ yet you sell Japanese food,” another sardonically noted. “What a noble cause.”
The backlash spilled into the real world too, with a small band of protesters affiliated with the Confederation of Trade Unions gathering at the Yau Ma Tei Yoshinoya today to make their displeasure known. One Twitter user posted a photo of a near-empty Yoshinoya — an unheard-of sight — at a Kowloon Mall.
A scene at the Yoshinoya HK branch at Megabox
Source: Facebook 唐生大地震 pic.twitter.com/LjJKGHdWfT
— Ezra Cheung (@ezracheungtt) July 12, 2019
However, a story by Marketing Magazine today questioned the contract-cancelling narrative, identifying the ad agency in question as SSHK and citing an anonymous source as saying that as of this morning, the agency was still employed by Hop Hing. The source was unable to confirm whether anyone had been dismissed over the matter.
Nonetheless, the fishball flap is just the latest example of business interests getting wrapped up in the long-running protest movement against a deeply detested bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
Though work on the bill was suspended in the legislature last month — with embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam reiterating it was “dead” this week amid sustained opposition — the protest movement has morphed into a wider referendum on democratic reforms and Beijing’s creeping influence.
Earlier this week, the company behind Japanese sports drink Pocari Sweat pulled its ads from TVB, which has come under fire from protesters for its purported pro-Beijing slant.