Andrew Atkinson
Andrew Atkinson
16 January 2018 0 Comments

A weekly blog detailing marketing initiatives with meaning.


A mid-2017 campaign from SK-II took the risk of putting a voice to social issues in China. Where many similarly directed campaigns have prompted backlash (IKEA and Audi spring to mind), the Japanese skincare brand has found a resonant stance.

In China, an ever-present stress in women’s lives is the engrained expectations around marriage, children and the type of life a woman should lead. The term 剩女 (shengnu) is a common reference to women who hit the age of 30 and are still single, dubbed ‘leftover women’. It is such a pervasive stigma that unmarried or childless women country-wide are currently dreading next month’s new year festival interrogation at the hands of their family members.

SK-II’s campaign centred around the video below, which went viral on Chinese social media and summoned an inspired outcry. The video follows three women’s lives, all born in 1987. In the video they are born with a stamp on their wrist – a 2017 ‘expiry date’. The voiceover translation (video under):

Are we all born the same?

Should we have the same dreams?

What are others’ expectations of us?

Can love just be ‘love for love’?

Do we have to define ourselves by others’ judgement?

Does our life have to have an expiry date?

If we have not completed our “Aged 30” checklist – does that mean that we are useless?

Maybe we can change our way of life?

Can we make the decision for ourselves?

Decide who we are

Decide for ourselves what is the most meaningful thing in life

Decide what kind of information we want to tell each other

If you change your way of thinking you will change your destiny

 Age is just a number

Don’t let others limit you

Change destiny


SK-II’s campaign is highly relevant to its core consumers. These consumers are female and ~30-40, slightly older because of its top-end pricing. It is famous for one of its lotions, referred to as 神仙水 (shenxianshui – ‘immortality water’). SK-II supported the video by inviting KOLs to discuss age pressure as a theme, livestreaming from their platforms, both social and ecommerce.

The campaign has led SK-II to position as a voice for these ‘leftover women’. Despite some cynical viewpoints casting the brand as hypocritical given its perpetuation of female beauty standards,  it has become synonymous with the empowerment of women in China and won a deeply loyal group of consumers.


Why is it interesting?


Attempts to tackle social issues can be hit and miss in China marketing, especially ones as close to home as these. SK-II’s success with this campaign reflects a changing attitude amongst China’s consumers, which has seen them far more empowered, especially in their discussions online. The last year has seen a surge in social discourse, one needs only look to the memes speaking to a divided population, or a disenfranchised youth so prominent that they have become the focus of brands’ strategies.

During the turbulent weeks of social media late last year when a Beijing kindergarten was under investigation for child abuse and communities of migrant workers and their children were falling victim to Beijing’s population capping measures, censorship on Weibo was greater than during the 19th National Congress – which is unprecedented.

Marketing to the modern Chinese consumer is increasingly complex with a large number of pitfalls, but in turn offers greater opportunities to build a connection, as SK-II has shown.