A Disney live-action remake of Mulan with a feminist hero. What could possibly go wrong? Ahead of its release, lead actress Liu Yifei shared a post on Chinese social media supporting the Hong Kong police against violent pro-democracy protesters, sparking a worldwide boycott of the film. What does this have to do with the Disney Citizen Mulan watch? . . .
Nothing much. It’s hard to imagine the Mulan backlash inhibiting sales of Citizen’s $275 gold-tone quartz timepiece. Judging from its size – 30mm – the Disney Citizen Mulan watch is aimed squarely at little girls, whose politics are unlikely to affect their – I mean their parents’ buying decision.
But the Mulan boycott could limit sales. The more grown-ups who participate in the boycott, the fewer little girls will fall in love with the movie’s central character, the smaller the potential market.
There’s a more important longer-term consideration: Citizen’s reputation. Why are you selling a Disney Citizen Mulan watch, a product that exploits a movie who’s lead actress turns its back on democracy? It’s a bit of a stretch, but brands live or die based on public perception.
You could say the Mulan controversy is a distant storm in a tiny teacup for Citizen. I wouldn’t disagree. But the Disney Citizen Mulan watch highlights the dangers faced by watch brands entering the political arena to goose sales.
While feminism is a routine theme in watch ads aimed at women, watch brands are focusing their PR efforts in two main areas: environmentalism and LGBTQ+ rights. Make sense, right? Who’s against saving the environment or protecting LGBTQ+ rights?
Never mind that Oris, IWC, Breitling and others tie their watches to environmental causes without revealing how much money they’re donating. Never mind that NOMOS’ Club Campus 38 Limited Edition Pride donation to The Trevor Project was relatively minuscule.
These “cause” watches are an inexpensive way to burnish a brand’s rep, soothing the guilty conscience of champagne socialists like HoDinkee editor Steven Pulvirent, making it O.K. for social justice warriors to purchase luxury goods that cost more than a Chinese watch worker’s yearly salary.
Yes, there is that: the watch industry’s closerthanthis relationship with the West’s new Cold War enemy. Truth be told, the Swiss watch biz depends on the Chinese market for its survival. The majority of all watch brands (including Apple) use Chinese parts and, thus, labor.
Will Chinese consumers turn their back on western luxury goods if and when their leaders tell them to? Will free world watch buyers get woke about China’s human rights abuses and boycott watches made in China, watches with Chinese parts, or watch brands doing business in China?
What of Japanese watches with a Chinese theme? The Disney Citizen Mulan horological keepsake isn’t caught up in any of the anti-China animus – if only because that problem’s still simmering.
But watchmakers dipping their proverbial toe into political causes to run up sales run the risk of a bitter backlash, no matter how virtuous the cause may seem. If it can happen to Disney it can happen to anyone.