How Uniqlo Became Trending on WeChat

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.

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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

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