Qihoo 360 CEO Zhou Hongyi’s theatrics in the Chinese smartphone war

Jing Gao

As China’s smartphone market grows saturated and competition gets increasingly intense, brands have broken with convention in a desperate attempt to prove their products are superior.

Zhou Hongyi, founder and chairman of Qihoo 360, put his company’s Qiku phone through an unusual test over the weekend to show off its apparent durability.

According to Zhou, arrows were fired from a bow at Qihoo 360’s Qiku phone, Apple’s iPhone 6s and two Xiaomi phones – the Mi 4C and Mi Note. Zhou proudly brandished the four phones in front of a camera post-test: all four phones had their front screens completely shattered, and all but Zhou’s Qiku phone, saw punctures through the back.

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Apparently Zhou wanted to make the point that the body of the Qiku phone was made of such solid stuff that it was literally impregnable to flying arrows. However, it remains to be seen as to whether he scored a bull’s eye in the PR stakes executing a stunt like this.

On Sina Weibo, China’s 300-million-strong microblogging service, Zhou’s gimmick became the target of mockery.

“All I have to say is: so what? This is of no damn use,” one user snubbed. “Can I suggest he may have wimped out when he aimed at his own phone?” another asked. “China has become so unsafe that a phone has to be bulletproof,” one commented sarcastically.

Legal experts warn that Zhou’s act borders on defamation and constitutes unfair competition.
“It is normal to compare specifications and factors such as price and battery life. If you want to evaluate the strength of the phone, you can perform a drop test to test the breakability of the screen and the frame. Shooting an arrow at a phone obviously makes no sense,” intellectual property attorney, Zhao Zhanling, was quoted as saying by DoNews.

Zhou’s PR offensive is only the latest example of animosity brewing among smartphone makers in China. With the growth in smartphone sales beginning to plateau, the market is experiencing a glut of dozens of makers and hundreds of uninspiring products all relying on pretty much the same pool of suppliers, leaving prospective buyers bewildered.

Sensational publicity stunts and debasing competitors, companies believe, will help sway consumers.

Last month, Xiaomi and Meizu both chose to launch their latest phones at the same hotel in Beijing, respectively, on September 22 and 23. Both companies hired an army of men in black to stake out their media registration desks in the hotel lobby, resulting in a dead-quiet standoff and exchange of icy stares.

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In March, Jia Yueting, founder and CEO of LeTV, uploaded to Weibo a cartoon depicting Adolf Hitler wearing a red armband with an Apple logo on it. Jia accused Apple of being an arrogant autocracy. Probably realizing his cartoon went over the line, Jia deleted the image and continued on with his Apple-trashing.

Zhou Hongyi is particularly known for his theatrics. At the August launch of his Qiku phone, he announced that new Qiku phones would be given to customers if they could produce three Xiaomi phones for a trade-in. Last month, he publicly turned hostile at Coolpad, whom Qihoo had earlier set up a joint manufacturing venture with, vowing revenge in a profanity-laced post after Coolpad formed an alliance with LeTV.

“I don’t understand why Chinese phone makers feel like they have to use these tacky marketing strategies to attract eyeballs. A truly good product doesn’t need to resort to useless tricks to attract public attention,” an industry observer told DoNews.

(Top photo from iFeng.com)

Jing Gao

Jing founded her own blog Ministry of Tofu and worked with Los Angeles Times, Greenpeace and LinkAsia. She graduated with a master's degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois.

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