Marketing Done Well: How SK-II’s ‘leftover women’ video blends movement, message and marketing

In just 24 hours from its initial release on Wednesday, Japanese cosmetics company SK-II’s emotionally charged commercial/documentary had amassed over 1.4 million views on Chinese video site Youku. Since going viral this video then picked up traction on mainstream Western news websites such as BBC and the Huffington Post.

Many of these news websites continued to purvey the heart-stirringly optimistic message of independence that the video itself puts forward, which is quite easy to do when your only connection to this issue is through this video. Despite the documentary-esque style of this commercial, it is nonetheless still a commercial for a cosmetic company with a specific target market. Therefore the subsequent social media explosion that happened on Chinese networking site Weibo is perhaps a better place to gauge the success of this commercial. What did the actual target market of this commercial think?

Mission Accomplished?

The reaction on Weibo was largely positive. SK-II themselves state that their ‘#changedestiny’ mission is about ‘overcoming the limits of DNA’ and ‘defying age’. Whilst this of course does go hand in hand with the #makemoney mission of every business in existence, it seems that SK-II are at least somewhat genuine about simultaneously making a statement on this issue.

The video itself is completely void of product placement, merely featuring the SK-II logo towards the end of the commercial. It doesn't take a lot of brainpower to deduce that producing this kind of video with obvious product placement can be brand suicide. The real difficult part is making sure you are respectfully conveying your message whilst not patronising, stereotyping or even insulting your target audience (marketing team at Dove should start taking notes here).

By not trying too hard with its message in the video, the viewer is not left with any sense of being cheated or taken advantage of. This much is evident from the comments on Weibo, which nearly all refer to the commercial as exactly that; a ‘commercial’. Not a ‘documentary’ or ‘video’. The exchange that is happening between the producer and consumer is seemingly much clearer than in most cases of advertising. In marketing, sincerity often takes the back seat to the primary aim of persuasion, but that doesn't seem so obvious here.

“Finally, the release of a worthwhile advertisement that everyone can praise and feel moved by.”
“This advertisement is really well produced.”
“This advert is conveying the spirit of the future, I will save up money to buy SK-II products.”

The above quotes taken from users on Weibo highlight this fact. People are not only commending the message that the commercial portrays, but many users are able to actually appreciate this commercial as a work of advertising. From a marketing point of view, SK-II has succeeded on more than just one level. Their advert has gone viral, but not superficially viral the way in which funny YouTube videos go viral, but it has gone viral in a deep and meaningful way. People are not only sharing the video, but they are sharing in the experience of the message. The result of all this is that people want to save money to buy the product.

“Don’t let stress control your future. Persist with your independent soul.”
“Actually I think that the way I live now, just as one person, is really good! Why do the people all around me think that I am not happy?”
“Regardless of whether you are single or not, independence and freedom are the demands of life.”

Even those that are not going to go as far as buying the product are at least moved and invigorated by the message. Above are just three examples of young women on Weibo who on the face of it seem empowered by the message of the commercial. Many of the young women who posted comments like this on Weibo have no posts containing a similar message in their history, leading us to believe that this commercial has genuinely tapped into the emotions of these young women.

By creating this honest separation between message and product, SK-II have given their potential buyers a reason to choose their product over others.

And that is exactly where part of the genius of this commercial lies. Even if one adopts the mindset that this is all some masterminded, manipulative marketing, one should still be able to appreciate that the message it is conveying is a necessary one. Is it staged? Is it faked? Who cares? At least it is working.

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Weibo translation by Stephen Farrant

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