Is SK-II’s ‘Leftover women’ film empowering or milking our insecurities?

Joanna YuenIn this guest post, Joanna Yuen takes issue with the motives of the latest instalment of the #ChangeDestiny campaign from P&G skincare brand SK-II, which confronts the issue of ‘Leftover women’ in China.

How do brands milk the insecurities of women? By disguising as ultra-empowering brand for women it seems.

Most people I know are impressed by the latest SK-II “Marriage Market” ad because, they say, it is “empowering”.

I’m Asian, female and 27, so by China’s standards I belong to the group of “sheng nu”, or leftover women [who are unmarried by this age]. I used to be a fervent user of SK-II, but I felt somewhat exploited by the brand. Here’s why:

1. The campaign does not address the core issue.

The core of the problem (that the video fails to acknowledge) is the changing in perception of marriage. In the past, marriage was a familial duty. Nowadays, marriage is a choice, not an obligation.

Parents and society need to acknowledge this in order to free women of expectations that are no longer conducive to living a happy life.

Without addressing these issues, the video switches from parents acknowledging that average-looks is the reason for being “leftover” to “leftover women should be proud.” What exactly made them change their mind? Without that rationale, it is not far-fetched to say that the video felt forced.

SK-II: Marriage market takeover film:

2. Passive-aggressiveness or ultra-empowerment?

The brand makes it feel like it’s OK to feel like a “leftover woman” because there are so many of us out there. Same with the numerous ads that leverage on femvertising (Think Dove’s “Choose beautiful”) where it asked women to rate themselves as “beautiful” or “average”.

Dove’s Choose beautiful film:

By showing that this is acceptable behaviour for women to admit that they’re just “average” it reaffirms the belief that “it’s immodest to tell the world that I’m beautiful.”

3. Brand purpose is not enough.

For a video that went viral [around 1.5m views since posting on 6 April], let’s not forget that women want to feel confident and embrace natural beauty by… changing our skin cells with their products.

If this #ChangeDestiny campaign has taught us anything, it is this: We can challenge social norms and stigma… and buy SK-II. I would have been fine with the brand telling me that its products simply work because of a scientifically proven formula. We already know the universal truth: Women want young and radiant skin.

Joanna Yuen is a former digital strategist at Social@Ogilvy in Hong Kong. She is now a commis at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, and wedding cake designer for her own company, The Secret Within.


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