It’s About Time

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Screen savers — yawn — aren’t they, like, so three years ago? Widgets, ditto, except maybe make that 2007. And then we get Uniqlo’s “Uniqlock,” a widget/performance video/screensaver that is so, well, up-to-the-second, energizing and hypnotic (in a delightfully weird pop-Japanese way) that it earned the Grand Clio in Interactive at last week’s Clio Awards.

As with most interactive entries, you really have to experience, the “Music. Dance. Clock” action, as it’s called, with that translated-from-the-Japanese locution, for yourself. Go to www.uniqlo.com, find “menu” and then hit “Uniqlock.” It’s a big, unifying idea for the Japanese clothing retailer — a Benetton nation, translated for our technological age.

Created by Tokyo’s Projector Inc. initially to build the Japanese retailer’s international “buzz” (a word I hate) among bloggers, it then exploded exponentially, behaving just as a viral campaign should. It’s become a cliche in the world of Internet campaigns to explain success by saying “and the bloggers went wild.” In this case, they really did: The widget got more than 60 million views in 209 countries, according to Projector. And also, unlike a traditional ad with a traditional media buy, it’s a living, breathing, organism that is still expanding with new content, long after its release at the end of last year.

It’s catchy, for sure. There’s an alarm feature, and this morning, for instance, I was awakened by shots of synchronized female dancers doing ballet exercises and jumping jacks in the library stacks (while dressed in the latest Uniqlo summer clothing, of course) to perfectly matched sound, and the repetition of the lyrics, “5-6-7-go, go, go, go,” while the time flashes in aggressive, six-digit components, in front of wildly colored screens. To be honest, one problem for me is the military time: I’m so math-dumb that in the beginning, I wasn’t even aware that the flashing numbers were the clock part. Indeed, it’s always a bit of work to decode 19:26:30, but it also looks better graphically (priorities!) and adds to the international flavor.

I used to joke that the word “widget” suggested “women midgets.” This execution comes close to combining the two — the dancers, who change outfits and movements according to the season and time of day (e.g., late at night they might be shown sleeping at their desks), are a group called Woomin. For my money, there’s no better way to advertise a series of “dry polo shirts” for summer than on a female robot dance team. Hourly specials pop up, too. The sound design comes from Fantastic Plastic Machine, which composed all the seamless time-signal-sound components. Together, it’s a work of virtuosity, which, if it gets too annoying, you can also turn off, so that the video hides behind the clock that sits on your desktop.

But the Benetton “We Are the World” part is actually the most compelling. The world maps show the location and local time for Uniqlock users. I was struck by its literal and physical proof of how globally connected we all are.

One seemingly foreign (and entirely charming) component, though, is the fact that you’re never directly linked to a Uniqlo store or a catalog. It’s subtler than that. And now, if you’ll excuse me, it seems to be cocktail time for the dancing robots.

Adweek and the Clio Awards are units of the Nielsen Co.

Barbara Lippert is Adweek’s advertising critic.

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