Luó Yǒnghào 罗永浩 is a smartphone entrepreneur, an internet celebrity, and a big talker.
And, depending on whom you ask, he’s either a successful businessman or a massive con artist.
Since the collapse of Smartisan Technology, a smartphone company created by Luo in 2012, he has been mired in debt of around 600 million yuan ($84 million) and banned by a court order from traveling. Before founding Smartisan, Luo had made a name in 2006 running a bullog.cn blog network that published some of China’s most famous writers, but his original fame came from his colorful lectures at New Oriental, China’s most famous test preparation school.
In April, Luo reinvented himself once again by making a high-profile pivot to commercial livestreaming and rebranding himself as a full-time influencer on the extremely popular short-video platform Douyin, China’s version of TikTok. Since then, he has hosted a number of livestream sessions where he has peddled everything from snacks and anti-hair-loss shampoos to men’s razors and cat food.
However, his livestreaming career has not been without controversy and mishaps. This week, Luo found himself the target of complaints that an online florist he recommended delivered withered flowers to customers.
The company that landed Luo in trouble is called IREFLOWER 花点时间. In a livestream on May 20, Chinese Valentine’s Day, Luo made an endorsement of the florist’s “520 rose bouquet,” a holiday-themed product marketed to gift givers.
“20 roses stand for ‘You are the most precious.’ Every girl will have butterflies in their stomach when hearing a romantic confession like this,” the product’s description reads, with a promise that the roses used by the company are “high-quality” and “carefully selected.”
As Thatsmags explains, the celebration on May 20, which originated from the Chinese internet, is based on the pronunciation of “5·20” (wǔ èr líng), which sounds a little like “I love you” in Chinese (我爱你 wǒ ài nǐ).
Convinced by Luo’s promotion of the product, hundreds of customers placed orders immediately in hopes of impressing their significant others on May 20. But at the end of the day, when the bouquets made their way to doorsteps across the country, many customers found that the flowers they received were not as fresh as advertised.
“The flowers are here, but they are so dead. How am I supposed to send them to my girlfriend,” an angry customer wrote (in Chinese) on Weibo.
Inevitably, many of the complaints were directed at Luo, accusing him of facilitating false advertising by IREFLOWER. “I’ve been following you for a long time and I trust your judgment when you rave about stuff on Douyin. But this bouquet disappointed me so much!” wrote (in Chinese) a Weibo user, who identified himself as an “avid fan” of Luo’s.
As complaints piled up, Luo issued a statement (in Chinese) on Weibo, in which he apologized for “making the holiday experience unpleasant” for many of his followers and vowed to fight for refunds on their behalf. Meanwhile, Luo also announced that he would issue additional refunds to those who bought flowers via his livestream, and that he would refund customers a total of about a million yuan ($140,244). “I made this decision considering that May 20 was special to many of you. I hope that this will quell your displeasure for a bit,” Luo wrote.
The backlash, to some extent, was the culmination of multiple waves of criticism about the blunders Luo has made when selling goods to his 7.8 million followers on Douyin. In one of the first livestream sessions Luo hosted on the app, he accidentally pulled out his iPhone while raving about Xiaomi’s smartphones. A crayfish snack brand Luo endorsed has been called into question for substandard packaging.
“Did somebody cast a spell on Luo and make his livestream sessions constantly caught up in controversy? It’s good that he apologized every time. But would it be more efficient if he spent more time screening products that he tried to sell?” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese). Given that Luo has a tendency to make outlandish claims and bail on plans and promises, the flower backlash is probably indicative of the public’s quickly thinning patience with him.