“What a mysterious country,” one netizen commented on the social media platform Weibo after adverts for the Japanese condom brand Okamoto, which had covered the ceiling and walls of a metro station in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, were pulled down recently following complaints.
About a week before China’s Valentine’s Day (also named Qixi), which fell on August 7 this year, Shenzhen’s Houhai station was heavily covered with the condom brand adverts. Despite the fact that there were no overtly sexual images in the ads, they prompted many complaints to the Shenzhen Metro, according to China’s media outlet Southern Weekly magazine.
A Shenzhen citizen surnamed Feng told Southern Weekly that when he exited Houhai metro station recently with his child, he noticed that many parents also taking their children through that station seemed uneasy and awkward seeing the ads. He was quoted as saying that brands should be more careful where to put up controversial adverts, as metro stations have a large pedestrian flow and the ads may not be suitable for some passengers (like children).
However, the act of taking down the ads has also sparked widespread discussion on Weibo, attracting over 300,000 engagements, with the majority of users supporting the advert.
A Weibo user named "卑微的Egbert想上学" commented: “Hospitals that specializes in circumcision and abortion surgeries can sponsor TV series, how come condoms that protect people from diseases cannot make ads. Plus [Okamoto] ads are so beautiful.” The user added: “Please those with eye disease go to the doctor,” apparently implying that the people who complained had something wrong with their eyes.
In fact, many Chinese consumers welcome condom publicity, especially the younger generation. Durex’s Weibo account, for example, has over 3 million followers and each post attracts thousands of engagements.
By contrast, Okamoto has 170,000 followers on Weibo. Perhaps it needs to more carefully consider how to target its audience next time.