UNIQLO "Storms" Pinterest

UNIQLO "Storms" Pinterest

Case Study By
March 1, 2012–June 25, 2012
Project Title
UNIQLO “Storms” Pinterest

Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2013 “Justified” competition, for which an esteemed jury identified 14 submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. 


Japanese clothing brand UNIQLO was looking for a way to introduce themselves to an American audience. The explicit goal of the project was to build national awareness of the brand and highlight their new line of Dry Mesh T-shirts using Pinterest. UNIQLO wanted this done in an interesting and innovative way, but they did not have money to spend on paid media.


Fashion has been notoriously resistant to change. There is a status quo and advertising tends to adhere to it. The fashion industry is highly competitive and any sort of marketing success has the ability to make for much larger returns.

In marketing its new line to consumers, UNIQLO—already known for its innovative digital initiatives—wanted to think outside of the norm and do something that would make people take notice. The clothing company is a relative newcomer to America, so the goal of this project was to introduce the brand to a larger audience.


As part of the UNIQLO Innovation Project, the brand was looking to showcase their new Dry Mesh T-shirts in a way that spoke to the innovative nature of the clothing itself. UNIQLO needed to reach a large segment of the population, but they did not want a traditional ad campaign. Instead, they wanted to separate themselves from the chaos of online fashion and social media.

After some careful observations of people navigating Pinterest, we realized that it would be the perfect platform to help deliver UNIQLO’s message to an already-captive audience. Pinterest users endlessly scroll through content, like zombies. In order to break the monotony, we decided to create the first-ever branded mosaics. UNIQLO came to us with a really open and interesting brief, so we knew they would be receptive to trying something different.


In order to bring the mosaics to life, we had to perform countless hours of research testing. We adjusted the approach daily until we were confident that our insights would enable us to effectively complete the project. Pinterest is a young platform and the backend is constantly being adjusted and refined. When we first started working on the project, we were unsure if our idea for these branded mosaics was even possible to execute.

To determine when, or even if, our “pins” would show up, we spent a great deal of time refining our approach. What we initially thought could be executed from a development standpoint turned out to be impossible, given the nature of Pinterest’s detection algorithms and user interface. Therefore, our preliminary hypotheses were tested over and over again until the best course of action was determined.


We were given a great deal of creative freedom to design and develop a truly innovative solution for UNIQLO. The clothing company was open to experimenting with the Pinterest platform and gave us free rein to come up with something that would drive awareness of the brand. They were fine with us using minimal branding and making the mosaics feel more like a design experiment than a typical clothing ad. The only real constraint was that everything had to be done without using traditional paid media.

In terms of the actual design of the project, from the beginning we had a very clear idea of the sort of aesthetic we wanted to convey. Although that never changed, the actual execution went through a number of iterations before a final course of action was determined. Any image that we pinned had to work within the overall mosaic, no matter where it ended up being pinned.

The most important aspect of the design was that each mosaic filled the screen and appeared to “move” as the user scrolled. The final aesthetic mirrored the moisture-wicking properties of Dry Mesh T-shirts, with blue dots changing to white as users scrolled through the mosaics. Once that “animation” was nailed down, others followed to ensure that Pinterest users would take notice.


For this project, we were entering unknown territory. The Pinterest platform is constantly evolving and the backend of the site is undergoing updates just as frequently. The greatest challenge was making sure that our idea would remain viable even in the face of so many changes. A solution that worked one day might not work weeks down the road. Because any update to the platform altered if and where an image might appear, our team had to continually adjust our approach.

While we initially believed that our developers would be able to create the mosaics for us, that ended up not being possible. Each individual tile had to be manually pinned in order to create long, scrolling mosaics, a process that was much more labor intensive than originally anticipated.


This campaign far exceeded anyone’s most optimistic projections, including ours. It provided a visually jarring and disruptive experience for countless Pinterest users but required no paid media.

The branded mosaics garnered UNIQLO 55 million media impressions and more than 6 million mentions on Twitter. On June 26, 2012, “UNIQLO+Pinterest” was mentioned once every two minutes across digital media platforms, and the work was covered by 64 media outlets. Prominent blogs such as Mashable, AdAge and Business Insider kept the project in the spotlight, contributing to 37 million media impressions.

Juror Comments

"This was definitely one of the most polarizing entries, but ultimately the effectiveness of the campaign was hard to deny. The scrolling animations were smart and beautiful, and I liked the DIY approach." —Jessica Hische

"No project elicited more passionate dialogue among the jurors than this one; no other submission was discussed at greater length. Few of us were ever convinced that the creative teams were “justified” in what they did, but what they did do epitomized the kind of irreverent, innovative thinking that makes interactive media interesting and keeps it rapidly evolving. The team figured out a way to exploit a medium (Pinterest) and turn it into a different kind of canvas than its creators ever imagined (or intended, or wanted). The concept, process and execution were brilliant." —Brad Johnson

"An innovative commandeering of a popular social sharing site, this project marries deep understanding of user behavior and age-old animation techniques to deliver an unexpected-yet-delightful experience." —Josh Rubin

"This was easily the most innovative and interesting project submitted to this year’s competition. It was also the most divisive and controversial. In the end, I voted to include it though I remain among the most skeptical of the jurors. First, the good: The team at Firstborn recognized an existing and predictable human behavior (scrolling) within the context of a popular online platform (Pinterest). They then engineered a way to hijack that experience and put the UNIQLO brand in front of potential consumers. The resulting animations were very clever and actually rather delightful to watch. Their efforts garnered massive social media “buzz” and traditional media mentions, all without spending a cent on media placement. What I find problematic—and indeed highly distasteful—about this solution is its moral ambivalence. In essence, it’s the present-day equivalent of a pop-up ad: an invasive, unwanted visual assault and a disruption of an individual’s user experience. This particular execution happens to have been done well, but as an idea and a value it is uncommendable. Although no money was spent on media placement, the designers’ approach exacts a cultural cost. This project raises questions about design’s (and designers’) relationship to society and our shared social media landscape. Do we applaud these efforts as innovative, creative “hacks” or shun them for blithely serving commercial interests at the expense of users and communities?" —Christopher Simmons

"More than any other competition entry, this submission sparked a lively debate about its merits and a broader discussion about online ethics. I am personally in favor of disruption because without it, we have no innovation. Kudos to those who can override the algorithms, for soon the robots will be in charge. The solution was simply beautiful as well. Perhaps I would have felt differently had I experienced the hacking and not been a judge after the fact." —Alina Wheeler

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