Uniqlo South Korea courts controversy as it attempts comeback

Facing an unprecedented boycott campaign Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo has launched a comeback campaign in South Korea – only to stumble almost immediately.

Uniqlo South Korea’s new television commercial rekindled controversy following complaints that the ad made fun of Japanese sex slaves.

Following the boycott movement which dates back to July, Uniqlo closed four stores in South Korea before opening three new stores over August and September. The company also reopened two original stores following renovations.

Uniqlo plans to hold a seminar for job seekers this month as it prepares to hire new employees next year.

This time, a new program has been set up to connect job seekers directly with Uniqlo staff, which is seen as a strategic move to recover its reputation in the country.

Uniqlo has also been offering a 50-per-cent discount for some of its signature products since October 3 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Uniqlo Korea, which is being seen as an unprecedented move even for Uniqlo that has been offering various discounts on a regular basis.

A new advertisement by Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo. (Capture from a YouTube video)
A new advertisement by Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo. (Capture from a YouTube video)

Uniqlo Korea’s new English advertisement, however, has sparked outrage among locals, placing the company at the mercy of South Korean consumers yet again.

In the commercial, a teenager asks a 98-year-old lady what she wore when she was her age, to which the old lady answers “I can’t remember that far back.”

The Korean subtitles, however, say “My God, how can I remember something that happened more than 80 years ago?”

The commercial became an instant controversy among South Koreans, with many seeing the subtitles expressed as being scornful of the 1930’s, which was about 80 years ago, when the Japanese empire forced Koreans into military service and sex slavery.

Uniqlo denied all of the allegations, but soon decided to take down the commercial altogether.

A parody video made by Yoon Dong-hyun. (Capture from a YouTube video)
A parody video made by Yoon Dong-hyun. (Capture from a YouTube video)

In a response, Yoon Dong-hyun, a student from Chonnam National University, shot a video clip with Yang Geum-deok, a sex slave victim, imitating the Uniqlo commercial.

In the video, Yoon asks Yang how difficult her life was when she was his age. Yang answers “I can never forget the horrible pain that I suffered back then.”

“The video clip was made to tell Japan how it must have felt for the victims during those times,” said Yun.

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    James Dooney posted on October 22, 2019

    Hmm on the surface of things, this looks innocent and most would just take it as a young person asking an older person about 'life back then'. However, given that Uniqlo is a Japanese company re-entering the Korean market - and perhaps more to the point that this advert talks about a period in time when the Japanese Empire was disgracefully ruling over Korea - they really gave themselves an uppercut by running this advertisement. Sensitivities over this period in Korean history run deep, and global companies - especially Japanese ones like Uniqlo - need to tread very carefully in how they advertise to the Korean market place. reply

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