Since opening its first shop in Hiroshima in 1984 Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo has built up a reputation for providing simple, brightly coloured items at affordable prices. But as of last week the only shade that seemed to describe Uniqlo’s image in China was blue.
On Tuesday evening a short video of a young couple having sex in a changing room at the chain’s main Beijing store somehow found its way onto social media. For a few hours it became virtually the only topic discussed among internet users. By Wednesday morning millions had watched it and people began flooding to the Sanlitun store to take selfies.
Suddenly Uniqlo was presented with a bizarre problem: having to deny allegations that it had participated in a smutty PR stunt to boost sales. “We would like to remind the public to uphold social morality and to use our fitting rooms appropriately. We firmly refute all online suggestions that the recent incident was part of a marketing strategy,” it said in a statement on its Weibo account.
Following a wave of gawkers and (clothed) re-enactors, Uniqlo was aslo forced to add more security staff at the Sanlitun store.
Meanwhile the Cyberspace Administration of China issued a reprimand to social media giants Sina and Tencent for allowing the “pornographic” material to spread. Xu Feng, a director of the internet regulator, told the Global Times that the clip was “vulgar” and said it “clashed with socialist core values”.
The police also acted quickly, arresting the couple in question as well as a 19 year-old (a friend of the couple apparently) suspected of posting the clip on social media.
So what has got everyone so hot under the collar? For the authorities, the answer is simple – Chinese leaders have ordered a massive clean up of the internet and “vulgar” material is a key bugbear.
For ordinary people, however, the reasons are more nuanced. While many disapproved of the clip, some found it compellingly voyeuristic (the girl is naked) and, quite frankly, a bit funny. A few netizens sniggered that it showed how tricky it was to have sex in a fitting cubicle while trying to film it all on your mobile phone. Better still, Uniqlo’s fast-fashion reputation seems to be tailor-made for the experience. “I know why the guy wanted to do it in Uniqlo, he is a big fan of everything fast,” wrote one netizen in reference to the film’s short length (one minutes and fifteen seconds to be exact).
One brand’s misfortune is another’s gain. As censors tried to wipe the video from the Chinese internet, other firms decided to capitalise on the public interest in the clip.
Carmaker Qichen boasted that its SUVs comes with power seats, powerful music systems and nice interiors. “Why go to Uniqlo?” it asked on social media.
Chery Automobile put out another slogan – “Don’t get a room, try a car.”
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