Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Aug 29, 2018

Old ads come back to haunt Didi Hitch following rape-murder cases

Angry Chinese netizens have dredged up past ads for the ride-sharing service, which are filled with sexual innuendo that seems foreboding in retrospect.

Hitch has let me meet you.
Who did you encounter?
How romantic was it?
Tell us your story, warm the hearts of more people.

Despite appearances, this is not copy from an ad for a dating service. Rather it's an advert put out a few years ago by Didi Chuxing's Hitch commuter carpool service. The ad is one of several that has been circulating on social media this week in the wake of the rapes and murders of two female car-pooling passengers in Wenzhou and Zhengzhou, which took place four months apart this year. 

Some Chinese netizens have even gone so far as to assert that the company's past advertising planted ideas in the minds of drivers long before the crimes.

The ad cited above has been removed from Didi Hitch's Weibo account, but that hasn't stopped netizens from dredging up it and others (see gallery above) from the past three years and reposting them on various social media and discussion forums, while calling out Didi’s inattention to previous customer complaints of harassment by male drivers.

The past ads are suggestive, always showing a male driver and a female passenger and using romantic analogies between car-pooling, movie-watching or trying out clothes in private fitting rooms. "Such obvious sexual hints," remarked one online commenter. The copywriting follows suit with the images. One ad reads [translation by Campaign]:

Is it really a coincidence?
Oh, we met again.
It’s [the Didi system] so smart.
In fact, I already knew your little secret, your car is actually not on the way.
But this is such a sweet show,
I want to continue acting with you.

Didi responded to the second murder by firing Huang Jieli (黄洁丽), general manager of its carpooling business unit, as well as Huang Jinhong (黄金红), deputy president of Didi's customer services department. In a 2015 interview with local media, Huang Jieli had mentioned how the key benefit of the Hitch carpool service was the "unique socialising" opportunity it provided. "Being on the road for two hours every day consumes your life, but now you can know more reliable people and get a good social experience by going on a [car-pooled] ride. Just like cafes and bars, private cars can become both a semi-public and semi-private social space,” she said at that time. “This is a very futuristic, very sexy scene; so we thought from the beginning that we must play in this direction."

At the end of 2017, about 2.89 million rides were pooled every day on Hitch, according to Didi data.

Yesterday, Didi founder Cheng Wei (程维) and president Jean Liu (柳青) released a public apology, blaming the company's "vanity" that "overtook our original beliefs". Here's the apology in full:

OUR DEEPEST APOLOGIES, from Cheng Wei and Jean Liu

The past few days have been days of immense pain. A tragedy struck again after 3 months as we were revamping our safety systems. As founder and president of this company, we are deeply grieved and remorseful. Words are useless in the face of loss of a life. But we still wish to say sorry to the victim, her family, and everyone. We are sorry; we failed your expectations.

We thought we were using technology to build a better world of mobility 6 years ago when we started this business. The tragedy reminded us we have walked this path without enough respect nor humility. Our ignorance and pride led to irreversible pain and loss. We can only ask ourselves what happened.

We see clearly this is because our vanity overtook our original beliefs. We raced non-stop riding on the force of breathless expansion and capital through these few years; but this has no meaning in such a tragic loss of life. Throughout the company we start to question if we are doing the right thing; or even whether we have the right values. There is an enormous amount of self-doubt, guilt and soul-searching.

The only thing we can do at this moment of pain is to face the pain and take on our responsibility. Not a single second shall be lost in solving the problems with our full effort. To bring back what we were here for from day one, this is the only meaningful kind of condolence we could offer to the victim.

In the past days, we looked again and again at the details of the case and the causes behind it. Here are some of the actions we will take.

  1. Today DiDi will stop using scale and growth as our measurement of success. We shall prioritize safety as the single most important performance indicator.  Our organization and resources will be fully shifted towards building strong safety and customer service systems;
  2. Safety products will see overall upgrades, including the optimization of the SOS Button and Itinerary Sharing functions. For user complaints involving personal safety issues, we will use three-way connection to dial China’s police number (110) to ensure information reaches to the police at the earliest time;
  3. The business model of Hitch will be thoroughly reevaluated. Hitch will be suspended indefinitely until there is a safety protection mechanism that is accepted by our users.
  4. We will begin deeper collaboration with law enforcement agencies to establish safety protection mechanism and respond more effectively to requests of law for evidences. Furthermore, we will start testing a newly-developed self-service inquiry system for police.

Safety is an endless journey. We might not be able to eradicate 100% the ill deeds carried out by criminals who might seek to abuse this platform, but we will try our upmost to protect passengers and drivers and continue to drive down crime rate in this industry.

We ask you to continue to monitor our work and give your criticisms all along the way.

There is no excuse for loss of life. Again, we apologize to all. 

Cheng Wei & Jean Liu

August 28, 2018

Brunswick Group, the communication advisor for Didi Chuxing on a retainer basis, told Campaign China the client was unable to offer additional comment regarding the rationale of the past ads. 


Campaign China

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