I Confess: I Truly Don’t Like Eating Chicken’s Feet

Posted on 27 May 2009

Fowl play

Fowl play

Phew! I seem to be embroiled in a little social media controversy, and it doesn’t feel good.

A few weeks ago I scored an acting gig after spotting a message on twitter from a Hong Kong PR firm that was looking for actors to perform in a series of short online promotional videos for the Langham Hotels group in Hong Kong. The whole campaign was themed “Visiting Hong Kong Is A Big Deal”.

So we spent a day filming at various locations around Hong Kong. My scenes involved me acting as a tourist new to Hong Kong, expressing distaste at being served chicken’s feet in a local “dai pai dong”, then eating a spring roll in the restaurant at the Eaton Hotel (part of the Langham group). All those scenes with me were edited down to a fast-paced, 1-minute 20-second video. Two other expat actors performed in other short videos.

The campaign then went online on the Langham Hotels website, and I invited all my friends and relatives around the world to watch it. The rave reviews came flooding in: “Very funny! I loved your facial expressions.”, “Too funny… I love it!” and “You are great in this ad. LOL.”

The campaign was also promoted on twitter by me, Langham Hotels and the PR firm. And then the shit hit the fan. Lots of people in Hong Kong started blogging and tweeting vehemently negative comments about all three episodes in the campaign, accusing Langham Hotels of insulting Hong Kong and Hong Kongers.

What hurt me was that several people made personal attacks against me on twitter and various blogs, and even sent me private e-mails, accusing me of being racist and demanding that I explain the client’s reasoning behind the campaign. But ouch! Jeez, folks, I was just an actor hired for a few hours to play a role! I was not hired in my capacity as a marketing consultant, and I had nothing to do with devising the concept or managing the campaign. (Is that an acceptable defence? Or am I as culpable as the Auschwitz guards who insisted they were just following orders?)

Check out some of the blog postings, and the comments on those blog postings, here and here and here and here. (I’m not sure how long the original videos embedded in some of those blog postings will continue to be viewable online. I’m in Episode 2.)

As a result of all the negative publicity, Langham Hotels decided to axe the campaign and has removed the videos from their website.  According to one of the blog postings, the company commented in an official statement: “While we’re pleased that we’ve generated discussion in the forums with the videos we’ve created, we were disappointed that the satirical tone of the videos was misunderstood in some circles. As a result of the potential to magnify the tone in a direction that was not intended, we have decided not to continue with this campaign. It was clear that some of the comments made in the blogosphere were at odds with our principles as a responsible multi-national hospitality company that values and celebrates cultural differences and understanding.”

One final comment: I truly, honestly do not like eating chicken’s feet. Does that make me racist? Does it mean I deserve to be deported from Hong Kong? 

Kay Ross

24 responses to I Confess: I Truly Don’t Like Eating Chicken’s Feet

  • Elmer says:

    It’s unfortunate that this had to happen. People admit they made mistakes and hurt feelings of others. Let’s learn from it and move on.

  • CrisBetewsky says:

    It’s a masterpiece. I have never thought people can have such ideas and thoughts. You are great.

  • kay says:

    Langham Hotels has issued an official apology, on video, for the campaign. http://ow.ly/eIkv

  • JaneRadriges says:

    Hi, very nice post. I have been wonder’n bout this issue,so thanks for posting

  • Stephen says:

    Just read your comments about the advert. In my opinion, I think you have a very arrogant attitute. In your other blogs you state what is right and wrong in PR, and in this you claim to be innocent becasue you were not hired in a “marketing capacity” anybody with half a brain knows the nature of the ads are offensive. And no, not liking chicken does not make you a racist, but your ads are clearly offensive to the local population and you are associated with it. Let this be a PR lesson for you.

    • kay says:

      @Stephen – actually, lots of people with more than half a brain did not find the ads offensive. But you’re entitled to your opinion.

      • Stephen says:

        Thank you for the reply.

        Since you were so kind to comment on one of my points, care to comment on the others?

        Speaking of opinions, in my opinion, you come across as another expat in HK who can never admit they are wrong.

  • Dotty says:

    Western and Asian humor are at the opposite extreme. Just because you show you do not like some food in a country does not make you a racist person!

  • LJ says:

    Congrats Kay… for…. er…… becoming famous in HK. (never heard of your name before this ordeal). From reading your post, you were just hired as a day actor for episode 2, but with your experience as a marketing consultant, did you not sense or think that elements in the video will backfire? Did you share your thoughts with Douglas White, and was he aware of the risks when he produced the vids?

    • kay says:

      Interesting questions. Before the controversy erupted, I had no conversations with Douglas White about the content of the videos or the concept for the campaign. I simply responded to his short message on twitter, calling for actors for a campaign for a hotel – it seemed reputable. The next day I went to his company’s office, but I didn’t even meet with or speak to him – I had a 10-minute conversation with a production staff-member who only very briefly told me about the concept – at the time it seemed funny and innocent, and I had no idea that the campaign would generate such controversy (I assumed that the Langham Hotels group was reputable). There was no script. The production staff-member filmed me doing a one-minute introduction of myself – there was no audition or script-reading. The next day, I was offered a role as a tourist in Hong Kong, and I accepted because I thought it would be a fun experience (it certainly wasn’t because of the pay!). And then we did the filming only two days later – it all happened very fast. On the day of filming, there were three actors and we spent many hours filming many scenes in many locations around Hong Kong, not in any logical order – we had no idea how the various scenes would be edited together.

      Apart from the very first “tweet”, I had no contact with Douglas White, and I had no say in or control over the concept for the campaign. I have absolutely no idea what Douglas was or was not aware of when he produced the videos – you’ll have to ask him that question. But it seems to me that everyone involved in devising the concept, including the most senior marketing people at Langham Hotels, approved it every step of the way before filming started, and then the client approved the edited videos and uploaded them to the company’s website. I was not involved in any of those discussions. I only started “tweeting” Douglas after the negative comments started appearing on twitter and various blogs. I want to say that in all my dealings with Douglas and the video production staff, my sense was (and is) that they are good people with good intentions, and I respect them.

      One thing I’ve learned from this whole experience is that the next time I audition for a role in an ad, I’ll ask a lot more questions about the concept before I accept. I realise that even though I was only hired for the Langham Hotels campaign as an anonymous actor, my own personal and professional reputation is on the line. (But I’ve acted in an ad before, and I don’t think anybody thought that by appearing in the ad I was necessarily giving my personal endorsement to the product or the company. And I would certainly never agree to act in an ad for cigarettes or alcohol or guns.)

      • Stephen says:

        “One thing I’ve learned from this whole experience is that the next time I audition for a role in an ad, I’ll ask a lot more questions about the concept before I accept. I realise that even though I was only hired for the Langham Hotels campaign as an anonymous actor, my own personal and professional reputation is on the line. (But I’ve acted in an ad before, and I don’t think anybody thought that by appearing in the ad I was necessarily giving my personal endorsement to the product or the company. And I would certainly never agree to act in an ad for cigarettes or alcohol or guns.)”

        What kind of PR/marketing consultant are you? I would pay you a penny to consult with my firm’s PR or marketing.

        It just sounds like you are making lame excuses.

  • David Martin says:

    It’s TRUE!!! I thought I was right all along, but now I KNOW! HK Chinese have limited sense of humour, no capacity to laugh at themselves and are hypersensitive to “racism” from westerners. This, even though, they can become full CITIZENS in most western countries… but try to get full citizenship as a whitey in HK. Now, THAT’S racism. By the way, I HATE chickens feet. Love congee though.

  • Sherman says:

    As marketers, irrelevant to whether on traditional, digital, or social mediums, a key component to a campaigns success is by really knowing our audience.

    They obviously didn’t know their form of satirical humor was not really funny to many.

  • Sharlene says:

    Sorry to hear about the harassment Kay.

    I can definitely understand why the folks in Hong Kong are offended, but then again, from a marketing perspective these videos seem terrible strategically.

    Disliking chicken feet a racist issue? Definitely not.

    A marketing company deciding the best way to illustrate a possible vacation by avoiding local cuisine a racist act? No, just nonstrategic.

    Do you deserve to get deported for disliking chicken feet? Of course not, but that story shouldn’t be used to promote Hong Kong either.

  • mickey says:

    Hi Kay

    sure you don’t like chicken’s feet, but that would be because you are a vegetarian, not a racist eh?

    and as for the satirical tone that everyone is missing, that is more down to the incredibly poor levels of acting and production (not necessarily a pop at you, but video one has spectacularly bad acting). I am not offended that langham put up videos of this quality, more that they paid someone to do a job that an 8 year old with a mobile phone camera could do better.

  • […] Actor/marketing consultant Kay Ross distanced herself from the campaign, and gave her side of the story. […]

  • Dwayne says:

    Sorry Verity, but I’m inclined to agree with Matt there.

    As for the humour point, I agree – humour is a very subjective thing, but given the seemingly unanimous ‘thumbs down’ I would think that Langham’s humour may have been in the vast minority and therefore much more of a gamble than maybe they expected.

  • Personally I found the video a fun and lighthearted look at cultural nuances that make us all different. As I’m a teacher, it made a good lesson starter on challenging cultural stereotypes. The Langham Hotel might have broadened the picture to show the spectacular elements of the landscape and culture of Hong Kong but at the end of the day it comes down to our cultural lenses and quirks of humour.
    Some Brits eat pigs blood for breakfast, some French dine on horse and frogs, and some people eat dog for dinner. As for the Scottish, don’t get me started on Haggis. Some people like their meat so rare it oozes blood onto the plate, just to remind them of the slaughter, not unlike Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. It’s all savage and uncivilized if you ask any vegetarian. To be honest, chicken’s feet are not my thing either but curried fish balls have grown on me (I do look odd) and if my kitchen was bigger than a shoe box (no offense intended) I’d cook with a wok.
    We all have our own cultural lenses through which we see the world. We are all endowed with the ability to give anything the meaning that we want. To find the naughty chicken’s feet video in bad taste is a personal decision, but before anybody makes the accusation of racism or takes the lowly path of making nasty comments about people, perhaps it’s useful to ask three questions:
    1. Is this film lighthearted or serious?
    2. What was the aim?
    3. Is my reaction socially responsible?
    If there was a vote, would the consensus be that this film is lighthearted? I say yes, but I know I can’t speak for all. That’s not my cultural lens so much (I spend more time laughing at my own culture than others) it’s a quirk of humour. I thought the humour was in the acting – the main character’s naiveté and ignorance -as much as the chicken’s feet. Poor chicken.
    For question 2, we have that gray area where people speculate motives, but let’s just think a minute: do you really think the Langham Hotel or anyone else involved would want to be tarnished with the racist brush? Let reason speak oh citizens of the world: the intention of all involved was not to be nasty or mean it was simply to entertain. Entertainment sells. Problem: not everyone got the humour.
    For question 3, it comes down to putting things in perspective: a) if I cry ‘racism’ towards my culture, should I take the high road by focusing on the issue and make my opinion known in a grown up way, or b) should I contradict myself and take the low road by attacking people rather than the issue of my concern? c) Can I do this with a clear conscience? Do I ‘judge’ other cultures? Do I find satire funny? And d) is this as serious as other social issues in Hong Kong like attitudes towards Filipino maids or cultural perceptions of mainlanders? – And everything else that all societies have to get to grips with.
    Anyway, let’s not forget the poor old chicken’s feet. If I was that chicken, once I’d passed over to the other side, and sat with my fellow chickens listening to a little Footloose, I’d look down and wonder: what ever happened to my feet? I’d see them broadcast all over town whilst people were hotly debating what my feet said about them. I’d be thinking ‘those feet weren’t made for walking.’

    …But they were sure made for talking!

    • Matt says:

      I sympathize with Kay for having to bear the anger of a lot of people, but Verity, your comment “it made a good lesson starter on challenging cultural stereotypes” is way off the mark. These videos are not challenging cultural stereotypes, but rather perpetuating cultural stereotypes and outdated myths and concepts about Asia and Asians. I’d be interested to hear why you think they challenge cultural stereotypes.

      • verity says:

        Matt, with all due respect: an effective lesson starter is when you show students something controversial and elicit their responses. You have misunderstood here.
        My point was not ‘way out of line’ (and whose line was that anyway? Your line?) The line has now been drawn as the Langham has acknowledged they took a risk that didn’t pay off.
        Back to ‘the line’: We don’t tell students what to think, we challenge them. This generation is more than able to challenge media representations and formulate their own opinions. The challenge came from the students and their responses – and they were very critical on many levels as I would hope. All from different cultural backgrounds and a range of responses-aka the cultural lens and the subjective nature of humour.
        Teaches us a lot about ourselves don’t you think?

  • Dwayne says:

    Sorry you got tarred with the same brush – I don’t think its necessarily fair to target the participants. But in all fairness to the criticism leveled at the virals, I don’t think anyone can argue that they didn’t seem to convey anything positive about Hong Kong nor the Hong Kong experience and I think that’s what most people were complaining about. In some ways, it may be a shame that we didnt get to see the next phase, but at the same time if they followed the same vein/approach it’s probably a good thing! I’m curious to know how on earth something like that original got through approvals….

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