Thousands of social media users have criticised Watsons’ decision to withdraw a special bottled water series with the theme “#Hong Kong is very beautiful” from supermarkets, a decision seen by some of them as an over-reaction to perceived political overtones.

watson's hk is very beautiful campaign
Photo: Watsons Water via Facebook.

The bottles were removed from Hutchison-owned Park N’ Shop branches and Watsons stores over the weekend, with staff saying they had received instructions to do so, Ming Pao newspaper reported on Sunday. The product remained available at convenience stores such as 7-11 and Circle K, the newspaper said.

The “#Hong Kong is very beautiful” series, with bottles made out of 100 per cent recycled plastic, carried four different messages on labels: “There is an attitude called persistence,” “Our roots are here whether we are together or apart,” “Chasing dreams across mountains and valleys,” and “[You] can always see a sunny day if [you] lift [your] head.”

The labels also featured images of the city’s iconic Lion Rock, Victoria Harbour and other landscapes captured by Hong Kong award-winning photographer Kelvin Yuen.

In protest at the removal, online users displayed on social media photos of the bottles they had purchased, using the name of the campaign as a hashtag.

280,000 social media interactions

The hashtag “#Hong Kong is very beautiful” gained over 4,700 shares on Facebook, while the expression was mentioned in over 840 public posts on the social media platform since June 18. The posts received over 280,000 social media interactions, according to the social media analytics website Crowdtangle.

“Can’t even compliment [Hong Kong] as beautiful, we should say it’s ugly then,” one Facebook page posted, along with an image of the Hong Kong government headquarters. The post received over 2,700 likes.

watsons water social media response
Social media analytics show the Watsons campaign received more social media attention since products were taken off shelf. Photo: Crowdtangle screenshot.

Watsons said the series had been intended to promote environmental protection and “make Hong Kong beautiful” and it was adjusting its marketing tactics in response to market demand. Without directly addressing why it pulled the bottles from stores, the company said it had decided to introduce to supermarkets two other types of bottle — one in aluminium and one without a label — after they performed well in online sales.

“‘Beautiful Hong Kong’ is one of the promotional themes for our green products this year. [It] underscores protecting the earth and the natural environment will make Hong Kong a more beautiful city,” a company spokesperson said in response to HKFP’s enquiry.

“This is part of our regular practice in sales and marketing,” the spokesperson said.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.