Xiaomi’s Mi Max launch at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium started on a scary note, with a group of disgruntled fans, screaming, ‘Xiaomi Hai Hai, Hugo Barra Hai Hai.’ . Xiaomi’s Mi Max launch at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium started on a scary note, with a group of disgruntled fans, screaming, ‘Xiaomi Hai Hai, Hugo Barra Hai Hai.’
If you’re a technology journalist, attending smartphone launches is part of the daily drill. Most of these take place at five-star hotels, some at the special hell in Gurugram called Kingdom of Dreams.
As journalists, we’ve come to accept the song-dance sequences and delays that usually accompany these events. But of late a new trend has emerged: Calling fans to a smartphone launch along with the media. Like most of our smartphones, this concept of ‘fan’ events also comes from China.
Two major Chinese players where brand fans have been spotted in recent times in India are Xiaomi and LeEco. While Xiaomi has its Mi fans, LeEco has what it calls SuperFans. And frankly, if you’re a journalist at an event, where these fans are in large numbers, you’re most probably shaking your head in dismay.
And the last day of June it became more apparent, why the media, at least those in the mainstream media houses, have been wary of fan events.
Xiaomi’s Mi Max launch at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium started on a scary note, with a group of disgruntled fans, screaming, ‘Xiaomi Hai Hai, Hugo Barra Hai Hai.’ What kind of fans abuse the brand they are fans of? But let’s see why were these ‘fans’ angry? Apparently they had been kept waiting outside the venue gates in the hot, humid weather and once they were finally let in, they were ready to vent out.
In fact, as I was walking in via the main entrance gate, I had noticed this very group — the one that would start shouting slogans — standing outside, arguing to get in, while someone from the PR team assured them they would be allowed inside for sure. At that point, I didn’t think much of it, because at various fan events, I have seen arguments take place between so called fans and security at the gate. But as the events unfolded, it was evident, this was not a small issue.
For anyone who’s followed the Mi Max launch on Twitter, they must have seen tweets about the disruption. While the group kept shouting and evidently got into a full blown argument with the Mi India team, Xiaomi India General Manager Manu Jain had to get on stage to calm these fans down.In the end, Jain had to promise them gifts right then and there. “Please sit down. We’re really sorry, we didn’t think so many people would come. Everyone will get gifts,” appealed Jain.
At one point it seemed like Mi T-shirts would be enough to stop the sloganeering, but it became obvious the chanting would continue. In the end, Jain had to promise them gifts right then and there. “Please sit down. We’re really sorry, we didn’t think so many people would come. Everyone will get gifts,” appealed Jain. At some point we heard a demand for Mi Band from the group, another point one member in the group told someone in the Mi team, “Why are you supporting Chinese company, support Indian company?”
Eventually when the event started, a Delhi police officer took the microphone to tell the crowd the event must go on peacefully, there should be not shouting and people should keep an eye on the bags around them. As far as smartphone launches go, this was a first.
Even before the launch began, Xiaomi’s team was busy distributing gifts to all the fans sitting in the audience.
For starters the ruckus revealed one thing: Who’s handling security at these events, what’s the vetting process for letting these fans in? As the fight revealed, it is not very clear and things can get out of control. Some fellow journalists rightly muttered, this was waiting to happen.
Security is a concern that can’t be ignored. As a female journalist, the first thought in my mind when a ruckus is created: what’s my exit strategy. Call me paranoid, but I have seen enough video footage, heard stories of fellow journalists on other beats getting thrashed, attacked for no reason.
Most journalists know that when there’s an angry group on the warpath for no obvious reason, we might end up being the target. Thankfully, in Xiaomi’s case they managed to get the ‘fans’ under control, but it doesn’t set much confidence for future fan events.
Conspiracy theories aside fan events by themselves leave most in the media wary. It’s not something that adds anything to our larger story. Most of us don’t care if you invite five fans or five lakh to an event. And as it became evident, for some ‘fans’ the event is all about getting gifts.
This is not to say, a company should not have a fan event. In this age of social media, a fan event is actually a good way to build brand loyalty and cultivate a community. Fans can do for a brand that no advertising campaign can do: recommend a phone to their friends and family. But mixing fans with a media launch, doesn’t help anyone, and frankly as we saw yesterday, can result in bad press.
Xiaomi learns the power of the Indian fan, the wrong way
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