BEIJING — On Thursday, cosmetic company SK-II launched three follow-up videos featuring women from their viral “Marriage Market Takeover” campaign that illustrated the stigma China’s unmarried “leftover” women faced.
“Don’t be so free-willed. You’re too picky. You’re a leftover woman.” These are some of the phrases uttered by worried Chinese parents in SK-II’s documentary-style advert by Swedish advertising company Forsman & Bodenfors that launched on April 6. The video struck a cord with women around the world and has received more than 12 million views, according to SK-II Beijing spokesperson, April Liu. Speaking about the campaign’s success, SK-II president Markus Strobel said the video was part of their #changedestiny campaign, aimed to empower women to go beyond their limitations. The Marriage Market Takeover film “touched a nerve beyond China” and has overwhelmingly received positive reviews he said, but has also been on the receiving on some backlash from others, including Chinese news agency, Xinhua.
In China, if you’re not married by your mid-20s, you’re often labeled a “sheng nu,” translated as “leftover woman.”
Strobel said the topic of leftover women has been a hot button issue for women so tackled it through their #changedestiny campaign, which has been running for a year-and-a-half.
“Each time we go to China, we speak to consumers, speak to women, opinion leaders and our own employees…the issue of “shen nu” kept coming up over and over again, people were drawn to [the issue] like magnets because it’s a real concern and real issue,” Strobel said from Singapore. The cosmetic company has less than 200 department store distributors in Mainland China, according to Strobel, who declined to provide revenue numbers, but said growth in the country is in the “midteens.”
The Marriage Market Takeover illustrated the many juxtaposing backdrops and viewpoints of the old and new generation Chinese. They cast real women and their parents, sharing their thoughts about the “leftover” label and their differing ideas about marrying for love versus pragmatism, with frames alternating between feelings of sadness, joy and hope.
In one scene, one mom reasoned why her daughter was still single: “We always thought our daughter had a great personality. She’s just average. Not too pretty. That’s why she’s leftover,” she said, as her daughter sat quietly next to her, holding back tears.
“What’s powerful about this ad is that it shows how tortured [these women] are,” said Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality.” Hong Fincher, who had a small consulting role in the project said filial piety runs deep in Chinese society and women need “tremendous strength” to push back against these societal pressures — a trend that’s starting to emerge, she said. Often times, these ‘leftover’ women are college educated. However, what’s more alarming, Hong Fincher said, is that women as young as 20 are beginning to fear the wrath of being called a “leftover.”