A young Chinese woman weeps as her parents discuss her single status, shown in the four-minute advertorial. “She’s just average-looking, not too pretty,” her mother says. “That’s why she’s a leftover.” Referring to those in their late 20s who are unmarried, in China the phrase sheng nu, or “leftover woman,” is a derogatory term.
But while promoting products such as its $179 Facial Treatment Essence and $225 GenOptics drops for age spots, both included in its pricey SK-II skin-care line, a Procter & Gamble marketing campaign aims to remove this stigma. Instead of being pressured into marrying for the sake of it, the campaign features women who’ve chosen to pursue their dreams. Markus Strobel, global president of SK-II says hat over the past nine months, this campaign has helped increase sales of SK-II in China more than 50 percent. “This campaign has put us on the map in China and generated extremely positive sentiment among consumers and retailers,” he says. “It’s helping us win with young professional and executive women.”
For P&G, making up half the company’s lineup around the world are expensive ones such as SK-II goods, teeth-whitening kits, and ProGlide Flexball razors and the company has said it underestimated the Chinese appetite for premium products. And globally, this campaign has helped SK-II expand too.
Having been already watched 46 million times on YouTube and elsewhere, the centerpiece of the campaign is the sheng nu video. The pressures they face to wed are talked about the weepy young daughter and other women in the video. The women show their parents their own ads, stating their desire to remain single until they find a spouse they love after the video shows that the parents visiting a so-called marriage market in an urban park where parents post ads seeking mates for their children.
Encouraging women to overcome barriers and work and live as they want, the video, titled “Change Destiny” SK-II campaign, started almost three years ago by Swedish ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors as part of P&G’s SK-II campaign.
“My parents can understand that society has changed, but their values, in terms of prizing marriage, won’t change. This … looking down on single women will only change when my generation becomes parents”
Jennifer Gilhool, a former Ford executive there who leads the U.S.-based Gender Economics Lab, a management consulting firm, says there’s unease in China around some women’s desire to marry later. In a society that still supports traditional roles, those who wait often struggle.
Expectations that daughters (and sons) will marry and provide a grandchild are closely held by Chinese parents, many of whom have only one child. To deal with the aging population and low birthrate, the government is also promoting early marriage. Anxious to find suitable matches as early as possible are young men, who outnumber women.
It emphasizes women’s appearance and not their accomplishments, says Gilhool, who is no fan of P&G’s campaign. “I think the impact of the ad isn’t aligned with the intention,” she says. P&G spokesman Damon Jones says the campaign “celebrates women who are independent and creating their own definition of happiness, regardless of societal expectations.”
(Adapted from Bloomberg)