It is often photos and videos of everyday scenes on public transport or on the streets that go viral on Chinese media. A pregnant woman making a fuss in the subway, a loud fight between two girls, or two men riding bumper cars on a traffic lane.
This week, a video of a young woman being scolded on the Beijing subway for wearing a cosplay outfit went viral on Chinese social media.
The video, allegedly secretly filmed by a bystander, was shared by Tencent News and other Chinese media platforms. It shows an older woman on Beijing’s Line 10 telling the girl off, saying it is people like her who are a bad influence to her grandchildren, that she is neglecting her duties, and wearing clothes that are too revealing.
The story attracted much attention on social media, where many netizens sided with the young woman and praised her for responding coolly although the woman was attacking her.
Now, the story has taken a sharp turn as it turns out that the whole scene was staged with the purpose of generating more attention for the ad behind the older lady, several sources write.
The company promoted in the ad is Womai.com, a
healthy food shopping website in China that delivers to one’s door. In the ad, the website promotes its ‘coolness’; it says it is not just ‘cool’ (or ‘cold’) because it allows shoppers to stay inside with the air conditioning on, but also because it makes ‘cold jokes’ (冷笑话 corny jokes) on its ad posters.
This is not the first time a viral story turns out to be staged. 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.
In 2016, a video showing a woman making a scene in a hospital after having to pay nearly $700 to see a doctor also went viral on Weibo. It prompted outrage on Chinese social media about malpractices in Chinese hospitals, where patients often get scammed by hospital scalpers.
Later, netizens discussed how the video probably was a marketing stunt for Yihu365, an online platform that offers its services in making hospital appointments.
Viral marketing stunts also often occur outside of China. In a smart campaign, Range Rover parked one of its cars outside of Harrods in the UK in 2016, spray painted with the words “Cheater” and “Hope she was worth it.” As photos of the car were immediately shared by people walking by on social media, the story became bigger and bigger, with even BBC reporting about it.
With dozens of everyday scenes going viral on Chinese social media every day, ‘fake virals’ have become a business opportunity for advertising companies. But because of China’s critical social media users, fake virals hardly ever last long. But by the time it goes viral, its marketing purpose has already been fulfilled.
Thanks to Miranda Zhou Barnes.
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