By Melanie Lee
SHANGHAI, April 2 With its rare apology, Apple
Inc went from pariah to praiseworthy in the eyes of
China's state-controlled media, a lesson for other foreign firms
not to underestimate the speed and power of the government
After coming under near-daily media assault for the past two
weeks and facing the threat of penalties from two Chinese
government bureaus, Apple apologised to Chinese consumers on
Monday for poor communication over its warranty policy and said
it will change the terms for some of its iPhones sold in China.
Greater China is Apple's second-biggest and fastest-growing
market, with sales up almost 40 percent to $6.8 billion in the
final quarter of 2012.
The Chinese newspapers that threw brickbats at Apple a few
days ago have since changed their tune.
"The company's apology letter has eased the situation,
softening the tense relationship between Apple and the Chinese
market ... Its reaction is worth respect compared with other
American companies," wrote popular tabloid the Global Times,
published by Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily.
The Foreign Ministry praised Apple for "conscientiously"
responding to consumers' demands.
"We approve of what Apple said," spokesman Hong Lei told a
daily news briefing on Tuesday.
Only last week, the People's Daily issued a scathing
editorial on Apple's return policy saying the popular smartphone
maker was filled with "unparalleled arrogance".
Apple was first targeted in mid-March by state broadcaster
CCTV during its annual consumer day segment. Volkswagen AG
, which was also criticised on the same show, plans
to recall vehicles to fix a gearbox problem.
"That Timothy Cook had to step up and respond from the CEO's
chair shows the importance of China and how critical it is as a
market not just for Apple but for every multinational company
here," said Kent Kedl, Shanghai-based head of Greater China and
North Asia for risk consultancy firm Control Risks.
Foreign companies who are adept at managing media crises at
home find it much tougher to navigate China where state media
outlets, pandering to different audiences, often have opaque
agendas and intentions. Analysts also said that foreign
companies need to remember that the bigger the brand, the bigger
a target it will be, especially in China.
"What foreign companies need to pay attention to, is that
nobody operates in a vacuum, nobody operates only on the good
graces of a brand name ... Five to ten years ago a report on
CCTV would have rippled a little bit, now it goes viral and has
a life of its own," Kedl said.