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How Uniqlo Became Trending on WeChat

Three pictures of a naked girl and a man in a fitting room, recording a sex video via the big mirror in front of them. “Are you sending me porn?”, I asked my long-time Beijing friend. How one sex video made Uniqlo a buzzword on China’s internet within 24 hours.

Manya Koetse

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On Tuesday, 14th of July, my Weixin [WeChat] app starts bleeping. A message from my long-time Beijing friend Lily: “Manya, did you see this yet?” Three pictures of a naked girl and a man in a fitting room, recording a sex video via the big mirror in front of them. “Are you sending me porn?”, I ask Lily, a bit cautious with what I click, just in case I get involved in one of Weixin’s online scams. “This is Uniqlo in Beijing,” she writes: “Everybody is talking about this right now!”

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Over the last 24 hours, ‘Uniqlo Beijing’ has become a buzz word on Weixin groups and on Weibo. Although the topic initially remained uncensored by Sina Weibo, it was taken down some time later. The pictures and video surely do not suit China’s online anti-porn campaign.

 

“Who made it? Why? How? It’s the questions that create the buzz.”

 

Uniqlo is a Japanese casual fashion company operating in fourteen different countries around the world. Uniqlo Beijing is located in Sanlitun The Village, an iconic shopping area near Beijing’s embassy district, where thousands of people pass by every day.

The video of about a minute, shared amongst China’s netizens, shows how a young man and a naked girl have sex inside one of Uniqlo’s fitting rooms. In the background, you can hear people passing by and talking as the couple secretly records their sexual escapade through smartphone.

As often happens with videos that go viral, the source of this video is still unknown. Was it first posted on Weibo or on Weixin? Who posted it? Was it leaked, or purposely put out there? In this particular case, it is the questions that create the buzz. Many people have been to Sanlitun The Village and might have visited Uniqlo – a place that is always crowded, with security on every corner.

The busy area is not the only reason why Uniqlo is an unlikely place to record a sex tape, it is also the brand itself. Uniqlo is a casual brand, selling basic fashion for men and women. It is known as somewhat ‘boring’, where people buy their white socks and Mickey Mouse T-shirts. Not exactly an inspiring environment for an erotic encounter.

 

“When China’s memes become marketing tools..”

 

The unlikely combination of a ‘sex video’ and ‘Uniqlo’ made many people wonder if this may secretly be a marketing campaign to spice up the image of Uniqlo, but this has now been denied by Uniqlo.

As the video and pictures became trending, the so-called ‘human flesh search’ (人肉搜索) came into action – with netizens acting as detectives to find out who people in the video are. One Weibo user called “Yuyi Houtianxu” (余艺侯天旭), a university student, was identified as the girl in the video. Her Weibo account has now been suspended.

Although Uniqlo might not have been used the video as a marketing tool, others are quick to jump in on this trending topic by selling the deleted video online through Taobao, or using the incident for their own benefit. H&M, for example, stated that girls who shop at their store “have more class” (image provided by That’s Beijing). The line “shopping at Uniqlo” suddenly has taken on an entirely different meaning.

H&Mresponse

Viral videos and trending topics have proven to be great marketing tools, with famous online phrases like ‘Do you know who my dad is?’ being used by companies and copyrighters.

 

“They found the girl,” Lily writes

 

Bleep bleep. Another incoming message on my Weixin. It is a copy of the ID of the girl in the video. “They found the girl,” Lily writes. The ‘human flesh search’ is completed. Her name, her birthday, her address, her birthplace, her identity card number and her school are currently being shared amongst thousands of netizens. She is 21 years old. I sure hope she has a marketing strategy in mind on how to use the event to her advantage. Maybe Uniqlo is still hiring?

Update: also see “Uniqlo one year after the sex tape”:

By Manya Koetse

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Food & Drinks

Coca Cola Chicken Wings Are Here! McDonald’s China Introduces Cola Chicken on Its Menu

Add cola, add chicken, and it’s a recipe for success.

Manya Koetse

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Coca-Cola Chicken wings are so popular in China that McDonald’s China, in collaboration with Coca Cola, has now added them to their menu.

It is one of those dishes everyone in China will know of, yet its origins are somewhat murky: Cola Chicken.

Cola Chicken (可乐鸡) is a sweet and sour cooking dish using cola, chicken, ginger, soy sauce, cooking wine, and Sichuan pepper as its main ingredients (the Chinese way).

Braised Coca-Cola Chicken wings are especially popular in China, combining Chinese style braising and Coca-Cola to create juicy and savory BBQ style wings (see recipe).

According to some, Cola Chicken comes from Jinan, Shandong, where a cook in a restaurant accidentally tipped over a can of Coca Cola into a chicken dish, after which he discovered the taste of the soda matched the simmering chicken.

Image via 食尚小米, Sina Blog

Others allege two Chinese Coca Cola salespersons thought of the recipe first.

Another explanation states that ‘Cola Chicken’ was already made in Western countries, using tomato sauce as one of its main ingredients. The dish then became popular in Taiwan, where the tomato sauce was replaced by soy sauce.

Whatever its origins are: Cola Chicken is hugely popular in China. So popular, in fact, that McDonald’s China announced on Weibo this week that it would add ‘traditional cola chicken wings’ to its menu.

The latest addition to the McDonald’s China menu is a special collaboration between the Coca Cola brand and McDonald’s.

“I love Mcdonald’s, I love Coca Cola, I wanna try!”,  commenters on Weibo say: “I absolutely love Cola Chicken wings.”

Although social media responses to McDonald’s Cola Chicken have been very positive, some who have actually tried it out are less enthusiastic.

“I had them, but.. I actually didn’t taste any cola flavor. Are we supposed to soak them in our coke first?” one disappointed netizen wonders.

Others also expressed similar sentiments, writing: “I am confused by how it tastes” and: “I think it tastes really weird, but I can taste the Cola in it!”

But others who tried it are very happy: “I loved them! While chewing, the skin of the chicken bursts open, giving you that feeling of a carbonated drink. And the chicken is slightly sour and sweet, with that hint of Coca Cola.”

The Cola Chicken wings are not the only special additions to the McDonald’s China menu, which also offers “Sichuan Spicy Double Chicken Burger,” “Jumbo Milk Tea,” “Taro Pie,” and “Corn cups.”

Earlier this year, Mcdonald’s China also introduced a Japanese beef rice bowl to its main menu selections.

Many introductions to China’s McDonald’s menu have come and gone over the past few years. Whether Cola Chicken will be one of the items on the McDonald’s menu that’s here to stay is yet to be seen.

Also read: McDonald’s Celebrates 26th Birthday in China
Also read: China’s First Fast Food Restaurant
Also read: Coca Cola in China: “Not a Single Bottle of Coke Should Be Sold to Chinese”

Talking about Cola Chicken, a recommendation: the touching and funny short documentary (25 min) ‘Cola Chicken’ tells the story of the Chinese Chen Chen, who works as a tour guide in Spain, and dreams of opening up his own Cola Chicken restaurant one day:

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Celebs

Faking Street Photography: Why Staged “Street Snaps” Are All the Rage in China

Staged street photography is the latest “15 minutes of fame” trend on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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It looks as if they are spontaneously photographed or filmed by one of China’s many street photographers, but it is actually staged. Chinese online influencers – or the companies behind them – are using street photography as part of their social media strategy. And then there are those who are mocking them.

Recently a new trend has popped up on Chinese social media: people posting short videos on their accounts that create the impression that they are being spotted by street fashion photographers. Some look at the camera in a shy way, others turn away, then there are those who smile and cheekily stick out their tongue at the camera.

Although it may appear to be all spontaneous, these people – mostly women – are actually not randomly being caught on camera by one of China’s many street fashion photographers in trendy neighborhoods. They have organized this ‘fashion shoot’ themselves, often showing off their funny poses and special moves, from backward flips to splits, to attract more attention (see example in video embedded below).

In doing so, these self-made models are gaining more fans on their Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, or WeChat accounts, and are turning their social media apps into their very own stage.

 

Street Photography in Sanlitun

 

The real street photography trend has been ongoing in China for years, near trendy areas such as Hangzhou’s Yintai shopping mall, or Chengdu’s Taikoo Li.

One place that is especially known for its many street photographers is Beijing’s see-and-be-seen Sanlitun area, where photographers have since long been gathering around the Apple or Uniqlo stores with their big lens cameras to capture people walking by and their trendy fashion.

A few years ago, Thatsmag featured an article discussing this phenomenon, asking: “Who are these guys and what are they doing with their photos?”

Author Dominique Wong found that many of these people are older men, amateur photographers, who are simply snapping photos of attractive, fashionable, and unique-looking people as their hobby.

But there are also those who are working for street fashion blogs or style magazines such as P1, and are actually making money with their street snaps capturing China’s latest fashion trends.

Image by 新浪博客

People featured in these street snaps can sometimes go viral and become internet celebrities (网红). One of China’s most famous examples of a street photographed internet celebrity is “Brother Sharp.”

‘Brother Sharp’ became an online hit in 2009 (image via Chinasmack).

It’s been ten years since “Brother Sharp” (犀利哥), a homeless man from Ningbo, became an online hit in China for his fashionable and handsome appearance, after his street snap went trending on the Chinese internet.

 

Staged Street Scenes

 

But what if nobody’s snapping your pics and you want to go viral with your “Oh, I am being spotted by street fashion photographers” video? By setting up their own “street snap” shoots, online influencers take matters into their own hands.

It is not just individuals who are setting up these shoots; there are also companies and brands that do so in order to make their (fashion) products more famous. According to People’s Daily, in Hangzhou alone, there are over 200 photographers for such “street snaps” and hundreds of thousands of models for such “performances.”

The photographers can, supposedly, earn about 20,000 to 30,000 yuan ($2,890-$4,335) per day and the models are well paid.

In this way, the “street snap performance” phenomenon is somewhat similar to another trend that especially became apparent in China around 2015-2016, namely that of ‘bystander videos’ capturing a public scene. Although these videos seem to be real, there are actually staged.

One such example happened in 2017 when a video went viral of a young woman being scolded on a Beijing subway for wearing a revealing cosplay outfit.

The story attracted much attention on social media at the time, with many netizens siding with the young woman and praising her for responding coolly although the woman was attacking her. Later, the whole scene turned out to be staged with the purpose of generating more attention for the ad of a “cool” food delivery platform behind the older lady.

In 2015, photos of a ‘romantic proposal’ made its rounds on social media when a young man asked his pregnant girlfriend to marry him using over 50 packs of diapers in the shape of a giant heart. One bag of diapers carried a diamond ring inside. It was later said the scene was sponsored by Libero Diapers.

 

Wanghong Economy

 

Both the latest street snap trend and the staged video trend are all part of China’s so-called “Wanghong economy.” Wǎnghóng (网红) is the Chinese term for internet celebrities, KOL (Key Opinion Leader) or ‘influencer.’ Influencer marketing is hot and booming in China: in 2018, the industry was estimated to be worth some $17.16 billion.

Being a wanghong is lucrative business: the more views, clicks, and fans one has, the more profit they can make through e-commerce and online advertising.

Using Chinese KOLs to boost brands can be an attractive option for advertisers, since their social media accounts have a huge fanbase. Prices vary on the amount of fans the ‘influencer’ has. In 2015, for example, the Chinese stylist Xiao P already charged RMB 76,000 ($11,060) for a one-time product mention on his Weibo account (36 million fans).

According to the “KOL budget Calculator” by marketing platform PARKLU, a single sponsored post on the Weibo account of a famous influencer will cost around RMB 60,000 ($8730).

The current staged street snap hype is interesting for various online media businesses in multiple ways. On short video app Douyin, for example, the hugely popular street snap videos come with a link that allows app users to purchase the exact same outfits as the girls in the videos.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an online survey by Tencent found that 54% of college-age respondents had the ambition to become an “online celebrity.”

 

Making Non-Fashion Fashion: The Farm Field as a Catwalk

 

Although becoming an actual online celebrity used to be a far-fetched dream for many Chinese netizens, the latest staged-street-snap trend creates the possibility for people to experience their “15 minutes of fame” online.

Just as in previous online trends such as the Flaunt Your Wealth Challenge or A4 Waist Challenge, you see that many people soon participate in them, and that they are then followed by an “anti-movement” of people making fun of the trend or using it to promote a different social point-of-view.

The 2018 “Flaunt Your Wealth” challenge, for example, in which Chinese influencers shared pictures of themselves falling out of their cars with their expensive possessions all around them, was followed by an Anti-Flaunt Your Wealth movement, in which ordinary people mocked the challenge by showing themselves on the floor with their diplomas, military credentials, painting tools, or study books around them.

In case of the (staged) “Fashion Street Photography” movement, that now has over 103 million views on Weibo (#全国时尚街拍大赏# and #街拍艺术行为大赏#), you can also see that many people have started to mock it.

“I find [this trend] so embarrassing that I want to toss my phone away, yet I can’t help but watch it,” one Weibo user (@十一点半关手机) writes, with others agreeing, saying: “This is all so awkward, it just makes my skin crawl.”

The anti-trend answer to the staged street shoot hype now is that people are also pretending to be doing such a street snap, but ridiculing it by making over-the-top movements, doing it in ‘uncool’ places, wearing basic clothing, or setting up a funny situation (see embedded tweet below).

Some of these short videos show ‘models’ walking in a rural area, pretending to be photographed by a ‘street fashion photographer’ – it’s an anti-trend that’s become a trend in itself (see videos in embedded tweets below).

Although this ‘anti-trend’ is meant in a mocking way, it is sometimes also a form of self-expression for young people for whom the Sanlitun-wannabe-models life is an extravagant and sometimes unattainable one.

They don’t need trendy streets and Chanel bags to pretend to be models: even the farm field can be their catwalk.

In the end, the anti-trend “models” on Chinese social media are arguably much cooler than the influencers pretending to be photographed. Not only do they convey a sense of authenticity, they also have something else that matters the most in order to be truly cool and attractive: a sense of humor.

Also read: From Mountains of Taishan to Faces of Amsterdam – Interview with Street Photographer Jimmy on the Run

Also read: Beijing Close-Up: Photographer Tom Selmon Crosses the Borders of Gender in China

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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