Sunday, 30 March 2008

Uniqlo Beijing

I blogged about the Uniqlock digital idea back in June last year (click the speaker icon in the bottom right corner for full effect - it still rocks as it's regularly updated) and frankly I'm a big fan of the marketing communications of Uniqlo. They are hip, refreshing and quirky.

I only occasionally shop there as most of the stuff is too straight forward for my liking but if I was into that plain and simple, done-well thing that Gap had going a few years back I'd much prefer Uniqlo over Gap because of the way they communicate. In short I love their personality.

I anticipate that Uniqlo are going to be massive in China after seeing their latest shop open in Beijing at Joy Shopping Centre. I was ascending the subway escalators a few days back and caught site of Chloë Sevigny on some Uniqlo wall posters announcing a store opening. I was immediately hooked. Now I know this will look kind of dull to people in other parts of the world but locally this is about as standout as it gets in China/Beijing so I do feel the need to blog about it. These executions are cutting edge for this neck of the woods, and would normally be stamped all over with the "well in China we do things differently" creative meddling that results in most communications as lamentable marketing mediocrity if not downright spammy once it is fiddled with.

I heard Neil Christie of W&K in 'this podcast' refer to some parts of the world looking for the differences instead of commonalities of an idea, and I couldn't agree more. Once the dull marketing folk who should really be in product development get their mitts on a bit of communication that is handed to them by an agency without the balls to stand for anything other than spreadsheet profit and loss, it becomes evident that the cardinal rule of advertising gets lost in the communication theory quagmire of venn diagrams, brand visions, engagement planning and link testing.

The first rule of advertising is to be NOTICED and that by its very nature means putting a few noses out of joint - It means having the courage to stand for something. Time and again I see an approach to Chinese advertising that is so timid it begs the question why aren't the suits in charge working in banks or actuarial cubicles instead of the (cough) creative industries?

Anyway in short the Uniqlo stuff is a breath of fresh air and hasn't been watered down. It's not Chinese, it's not Japanese, it's not American but it will be successful. The point of focus groups was never to let the 'consumer' (ugh) tell us what the creative direction should be it was about creative development and disaster checking. Those who hang on the focus groups' every word are destined to be followers not leaders. It takes leadership to be a brand, not the correctional marketing, and insipid rear view mirror copycat mimicry that is endemic in what should be the most exciting and new emerging market on the planet. There's a reason why China doesn't have a real global brand yet and I've talked about it more extensively in the comments over here. There's deeper socio-historical reasons too but I will go into that more fully when I write the post that suggests if you're over 25 and in advertising in China - You are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Uniqlo - We salute you for being the nail that sticks out, for having a personality and being interesting. Rant over.


  1. me ol' charlie 'subtle as a brick' frith.. great post matey. top draw. great work from uniqlo too.

  2. a nice example of advertising better than product...

    things i like about this brand: uniqlo's hero product, the t-shirt, is a nice and simple embraced idea, and the ads stimulate a feel-good environment

    beijing's first store is well located (xidan, the youth spot), and as expected it was packed during its first day of operation.

  3. You know what Charles, I love this post - like truly, honestly love it - the only thing I'd say is that I disagree if you're over 25 and in advertising you're to blame for China's lack of global brand ... because as you know, the Chinese culture is one that is about 'follow the leader' and 'group validation' ... so for me, it's if you're over 30 and have worked in advertising for at least 10 years - then you most certainly are guilty of crimes against Chinese brand development.

    Then there's the people who have lived there for 20 years + ... especially the expats ... then there's no need even for a trial - they are guilty, and guilty of many things, not just China's evolution, but the people's as well.

    Funny you should write this, you'll see a post I've written on Wednesday [yes, I'm that sad] that has a similar 'feel' to this.

  4. Agreed Rob and of course there are fab older people in the biz but if ever there was a generalism in China about creativity and building a modern, daring, exciting and engaging country (which China is in so many ways) then for sure the over 30's are unlikely to be helpful.

    I also agree that there are way to many powerful parasites (many are expats) who have lived off the fat of the land and are absolutely not interested in disruption of the status quo and the mediocrity that comes with it.

  5. Great point Gustavo. The T Shirts are hero products with nice twists and I like the way you put it. The ads are feel good. Not much to ask and not hard to do if real feelings are involved.

  6. Hey charlie,

    Thanks for all your recent posts on fashion in Beijing. It surprises me that Uniqlo have only just gotten their claws into the Chinese yoof market. In my humble Their advertising looks quite effortlessly new wave China. See ya. BTW, those steamed buns/dumplings look yum yum yummy!

  7. Hi Fiona. Uniqlo have been in the China market from some years now but not a huge presence in Beijing and are definitely standing out with their new store here. You and Rich are going to be eating at the steamed bun joint if you make it over here :)