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SK-II / Marriage Market Takeover

by Contagious I/O

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world

Cosmetics brand creates online film to empower and celebrate single women in China

Many women in China face enormous pressure from their families and society to marry young. In fact, if they are not married by the age of 27, they are labelled ‘leftover women' (Sheng Nu). In a bid to see their offspring coupled-off, many families visit advertise their single daughters and sons in outdoor marriage markets (like the one pictured below).

Luxury skin care brand SK-II has decided to stand up for leftover women in its latest campaign, Marriage Market Takeover. An online firm, created by Forsman & Bodenfors in Stockholm, shows the pressure that the single women face from their families. The film launched on Chinese video hosting site Youku. ‘I won’t die in peace unless you’re married,’ says one father. ‘If she really can’t find the one, it will be a heart disease for me,’ says another.

The single women explain that they want to hold out for love, rather than settle for someone ‘suitable’. To help get this message across to their parents, SK-II orchestrated a take-over of the famous marriage market in Shanghai’s People’s Park. Instead of notices attracting potential suitors, the brand exhibited photographs of the single women accompanied with messages such as, ‘Even if I’m alone, I will be happy, confident and have a good life,’ and ‘I want to take time to find the right person.’ The film then depicts the parents' emotional reactions to these posters.

The Marriage Market Takeover film is part of a larger campaign called Change Destiny. The campaign website describes how ‘destiny isn’t a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice.’ SK-II features Asian women that have changed their destiny by breaking gender stereotypes or age stereotypes.

Results /

The agency reports that the video had 11 million views globally and sparked discussion in 35 countries. To further fuel the debate, SK-II has released three in-depth interviews with the stars of the original film and their parents.


Contagious Insight / 

Targeting affluent consumers / With no families to support, leftover women are likely have more disposable income than married women. In fact, some of them may be single precisely because they are earning so much money. As a 2013 New York Times article explains, ‘Traditional attitudes demand that a man earn more than a woman, meaning that as women earn increasingly more they are pricing themselves out of the marriage market.‘ With more money to spend on themselves, the women make a smart target for a luxury cosmetics brand like SK-II.

Standing up for progress / SK-II’s campaign is part of a trend of reversing the meaning of the leftover woman, turning it into a positive term. The Chinese word for leftover is 'shengnu’ but depending on the way the character is written ‘sheng’ can also be interpreted as ‘victorious’ or ‘successful’. By focusing on the women’s independence and powerful careers, the finale to the SK-II branded content interprets ‘shengdu’ in this positive light.

While the campaign is directly targeting a select group, it also depicts SK-II as a progressive and modern brand with values that could resonate on a much larger scale. Even though the subjects of the film are Chinese, they are dealing with pressures that women across the world can identify with, which is why this content has the potential to appeal beyond China’s borders. In just one week the online video was viewed more than 1.7 million times on YouTube, even though the platform is unavailable in China. As a Japanese brand, available across the world, SK-II has a vested interest in creating content that makes it stand out globally.


Marriage Market Takeover



This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world. I/O helps anyone in the world of marketing understand why brands are innovating, how they're doing it and with what success.

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