Seoul, Korea, 1982. A Korean baseball player, wearing Didibao shoes, lunges to bunt a ball at least two feet off the outside corner of the plate. He connects, and the ball takes off. Improbably, impossibly, it carries down the left field line, all the way for a home run. "Imagination has become reality," the video says.
It never happened, of course. Common sense and the first law of thermodynamics both tell you a ball can't be bunted for a home run. It's a viral video, meant to sell shoes, and we're used to that sort of thing. We know Michael Vick can't throw a ball out of the stadium, but if we remember that it was a Powerade commercial, the ad did its job. So if some teenager in Korea sees this video, and thinks of Didibao shoes, then Didibao has done its job. But Didibao is more than it seems, or maybe less.
Always Be Humble is the company's tagline, and their website certainly complies. There is no splashy graphic, no blasting rock music, no links to purchase their latest sneakers. Only a paragraph of overly formal English text:
Thank you for visiting our humble website. We know you are here now because you are aware of us. This website, however, is far from quenching all of your thirsts. We are sorry to inform you that it is not our policy for the time being to show what we have and are. We fully understand this attitude can be thought of as rude or offensive, but we know as well this is the best way we should take for the present to embody our corporate values. We believe time will tell you what we are like. We hope you understand and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause for you.
One is intrigued. One wants to find out more about this mysterious sportswear company from the Far East, perhaps poised to become a major player on the world scene, like China's Anta and Li-Ning. So one Googles Didibao, and finds nothing but whispers, half-truths, and full lies.
A photo of a Didibao bag first surfaced in 2002, on internet forum DC Inside, the meme-spawning 4chan of South Korea. Aping the Adidas "Three Stripes" logo and font, most users dismissed it as a Chinese knockoff. But photos kept popping up. There was Didibao on a Russian subway. There was Didibao in a Pakistani marketplace. There was Didibao, for sale on the streets of Seoul. And word began to spread that Didibao was a luxury brand produced by Adidas, available only to the select few. Some users assumed it was merely an emerging forum meme, that posters were photoshopping or staging these pictures to keep the in-joke going. Others wondered if there was real Didibao merchandise out there, using guerilla marketing to raise the brand's profile before a wider release. But the answer never came, and Didibao would remain the urban footwear of urban legends for years.
In 2008, a Didibao commercial was released to YouTube. It drew immediate attention for its content, which suggested that a new Didibao store had opened in Pakistan at the behest of the CIA in an attempt to lure Osama bin Laden out of hiding. Another YouTube video was posted showing a customer displaying her new color-changing Didibao shoes. In sunlight, they turn from silver to gold. A series of screengrabs of Korean TV personality Kang Ho Dong wearing Didibao merchandise on the air began circulating. Michael Jordan did a print ad. There was a giant billboard on the Shanghai waterfront, and ads in the subway and in magazines. There was even a Didibao retail store. Didibao was global.
The logo was different. Gone was the Adidas knockoff, and in its place a stylized spelling of the company's name, that reads in English as well as Korean. The "official" explanation: Adidas had plagiarized their logo, but they were big enough to not make a stink. Always Be Humble.
Didibao went to ground again, existing only on message boards and in the imagination of their users. It resurfaced last month with the bunt home run commercial, which appears to be fan-made, but in my mind, that's the point. The entire Didibao mythos, from its murky origins to its decade-long role as the most elusive sportswear company in the world, has been fan-made, fan-driven, fan-consumed. It's crowdsourced folklore, a fable for Web 2.0. And so what if there's no factory, no store, no CEO? Someone made Didibao shoes, and Didibao bags, and Didibao stickers, and Didibao commericials, so who's to say it doesn't have substance, if not Form, like the shadows in Plato's cave? It exists as an internet shibboleth—do you know about Didibao?—and that's a legitimate existence. A humble one, but that's always been the way of Didibao.