A few days back, stories broke that Huawei had tried to pass off not just one, but at least two photos as part of teaser images for the upcoming P30's telescopic optical zoom. Both were professional DSLR shots, one of which was easily reverse-searched as being from a stock image repository on the web, the other outed as shot by someone back in 2009. The facts came to light quickly and without much effort: Huawei was caught red-handed, and its later attempts to sidestep an apology seemed half-hearted at best (which, no: Huawei has not apologized - its statement admits no fault of any kind). Huawei claims, of course, that it never intended to deceive, and so why would it apologize? Even if that were the case - which I find hard to believe - Huawei's "history" with this sort of thing means it full well should have known better.
Huawei was caught passing off pro-shot photos in a similar fashion - though in an admittedly far more embarrassing context - last summer with the Nova 3. Oh, and it also happened back in 2016 with the P9. That makes this the third time Huawei will be learning from what is an objectively very, very stupid thing to do. And it all but assures any camera marketing imagery Huawei posts in the future will face far more scrutiny than that of its rivals, which will not be an unfair thing given the record of deception it has now established. Fans may cry foul - after all, Samsung was caught doing this in December in a regional advertisement for a mid-range handset - and that's essentially the same thing, right? But two wrongs don't make a right, at least as far as any reasonable person should be concerned.
Having compared the “fake” Huawei P30 sample shots grabbed by GSMAreana with the ones in Richard Yu’s weibo post, it’s safe to say that Huawei updated the pics with a disclaimer *after* being called out. This wouldn’t have been an issue if this was done in the first place. pic.twitter.com/8RmRPFWcIO
— Richard Lai (@richardlai) March 12, 2019
Yet, I have a feeling that it is the "everybody does it" logic which continues to perpetuate what is clearly an attitude inside Huawei's marketing: that so long as no one can prove it, you did nothing wrong. And it's not just these photo scandals where Huawei's hand has been caught in the proverbial cookie jar. Back in 2015, the company blatantly faked the bezels on its P8 smartphone in marketing images. It astroturfed Best Buy listings for the Mate10 with fake reviews in 2018. Last summer, it gamed graphics benchmark scores and its phones were delisted from popular benchmarking databases.
Huawei, once again, is not unique in any of these offenses. Astroturfing is a huge problem across all product segments - Samsung was caught and fined for a particularly nefarious campaign in 2013. Oppo was caught cheating at benchmarks right around the same time Huawei was last year. And I'd need two hands for every Chinese phone manufacturer I've seen slicing bezels off its phones in marketing imagery - it happens literally all the time. Nobody even bothers to talk about it anymore.
As such, Huawei probably feels it is the target of an unfair campaign of demonization, particularly from western media. That, seeing everyone else get off with comparative slaps on the wrist, it is being singled out for especially brutal and scathing critique. And finding confirmation of this, as far as Huawei's internal research is likely concerned, is not hard. EMUI has been lambasted for years outside Huawei's home market, and while it has come a long, long way from the dark iOS-skin days, it still tends to be the one "but" to otherwise glowing Mate 20 Pro reviews. Its in-house Kirin chipsets have rarely outperformed US-based Qualcomm's (the current generation sees some of Qualcomm's leads extended), and its once seemingly-assured leadership in 5G is under threat from what are, frankly, dubious and fearmonger-y claims by US-aligned governments around the world. That all but guarantees the company's first 5G modem will go almost unnoticed outside China, while Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 can already claim half a dozen global smartphone design wins. And let's not forget about that whole US carrier launch disaster last year, which was a massive embarrassment for the company (and, I'd argue, a political stunt which was entirely unfair to Huawei). They've also taken the extreme step of suing the US government for violating what it says are the company's constitutional rights. The optics of this - a Chinese company suing the US government for unfair treatment, citing the US Constitution - are awkward at best, and materially damaging at worst.
Perhaps instead of engaging in photo tricky, Huawei's marketing and PR would find a warmer reception in the media if it simply let its products speak for themselves.
In stark contrast to these chronic PR troubles is the success story of the brand itself. Huawei and its subsidiary Honor are doing incredibly well in the European market, the latest continent the two have begun a truly concerted push in. And the products largely speak for themselves: the Mate 20 Pro packs excellent cameras, outstanding battery life, and sits among the very best Android phones available right now. Honor's View 20 offers much of the same at a far more palatable price point, with just a few corners cut to achieve it. These are, on the whole, very good products that are very competitive in a highly competitive marketplace. That's a pretty substantial achievement.
Perhaps instead of engaging in photo tricky - and then becoming combative and unapologetic in response to the treatment that follows - Huawei's marketing and PR would find a warmer reception in the media if it simply let its products speak for themselves. After all, they seem more than capable.