Even In The Middle Kingdom, Sex Sells (But should it?)

Recently, that infamous Uniqlo video showing a young couple having some special “alone” time in the store’s changing rooms spread like wildfire across Chinese social media. All within the space of a few hours.

UniqloWhat made it so viral?

It was a specific (and popular) place that people knew well. It could have been any changing room, until the store announcement over the loudspeaker gave away the exact location – Uniqlo’s flagship store in Beijing’s popular Sanlitun district.

The “actors” were both local Beijingers, making the video even more local and relevant.

The video also had the allure of forbidden fruit. In China, porn is technically illegal as it goes against the government’s strongly enforced “Socialist Core Values” (although pornography is still widely available on DVD from street vendors for approximately 15 RMB – around 3 NZD).

Surprisingly, despite China’s uneasy relationship with neighbouring Japan, most pornography consumed in China is of Japanese dissent.

The video’s location and local participants were enough to force it onto everybody’s newsfeeds. At one point, it filled the entire Top 10 Weibo trending topics.

It’s virability has made the culprits extremely easy to track down and the latest reports say that not two, but five people have been arrested in connection with the incident.

How did Uniqlo react?

Netizens began to question whether or not this was all a marketing stunt, but Uniqlo were quick to distance themselves from the incident.

Uniqlo asked the public to “uphold social morality” when using their changing rooms and they “firmly deny” the allegations that this was their own “publicity stunt”.

How did Uniqlo’s competitors react?

H&M and Zara – or people pretending to be them – decided to hitch a ride on the viral event, using it as an opportunity to boast about the size of their own changing rooms.

A supposed H&M announcement went viral, kindly reminding netizens that “we provide more well-thought-out fitting rooms equipped with hidden cameras to fulfil your dream of becoming a movie director.

Whether or not all the reactions from Uniqlo’s competitors were real remains unclear. (Although we have to admit, it sounds unlikely!)

What did Chinese netizens have to say?

Chinese are reportedly coming from far and wide to take selfies outside the store. However, the three best reactions we’ve seen to the video so far have been:

1. A rap video named, “Thank you, fitting room” (albeit completely in Chinese).

2. Uniqlo style T-Shirts commemorating the event.

3. A Uniqlo video inspired tattoo (nothing too extreme then).

Inevitably, some internet slang has arisen in the video’s aftermath. Netizens have coined the term, 野战, yězhàn, meaning “operation in the field”.

The term “fitting rooms” has also become a euphemism, but possible the most farcical thing yet is this pickup line: “Hey baby, want to go shopping at Uniqlo?

Changing room video a reflection of changing China?

This video and netizens’ reactions to it flies in the face of common Western perceptions of Chinese society as traditional and conservative.

As with anything relating to China, the picture simply isn’t clear cut.

A study conducted this year has shown that, like the U.S.’s red state-blue state divide, China also has it’s own divide.

The more prosperous cities in China, especially Shanghai, tend to be more liberal than their rural counterparts.

What’s more, richer and higher-educated individuals have been shown as less likely to express conservative leanings.

This effects how the Chinese government generates rhetoric in different parts of the country.

Similarly, it should affect anyone looking to engage the Chinese market in two ways:

(1) which area of China you want to market to;

(2) how you want to conduct marketing in that particular area.

What does this mean for your brand?

It’s certain that sex sells, but will this benefit your brand? A lot depends on your specific desired market within China.

In the well-developed cities, attitudes towards sex are generally more open, but for the rest of the country, attitudes are closest to western conservative Christians: marriage is reserved for marriage only. It’s a wider divide than we generally see in the western world, with less consensus.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of Chinese marketing, sign up for our webinar, China Marketing Exposed.


Written by Lawrence Smyth and Simon Young

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