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New SK-II Commercial Shows the Strong Message of China’s “Leftover Women”

A new ad campaign by skin care brand SK-II on China’s ‘leftover women’ has gained huge support on Chinese social media.

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A new ad campaign by skin care brand SK-II titled ‘She Finally Goes to the Marriage Corner’ (她最后去了相亲角) has gained huge popularity on Chinese social media. The short video shows how women, pressured to get married by their families and society, pluck up the courage to speak out and get their message heard.

The Japanese cosmetics company SK-II released its new campaign film on April 6, which attracted over 1.2 million views on Chinese video platform Youku within a day. The film, titled ‘She Finally Goes to the Marriage Corner’, seems to have touched the hearts of many “leftover women” in China.

“I will not die unless you get married!”

In China, marriage often comes with social and familial pressure. This holds particularly true for women. Once over 25, single girls are soon tagged “leftover women” (剩女), and the immense pressure to marry comes into play.

crying

The pressure reveals itself in various ways. Parents suddenly seize every opportunity to investigate your ‘relationship status’, and vague relatives show their surprise upon hearing still single. Married friends become the ‘perfect examples’ that pop up during dinner talk: “Look at ***, her child can go buy soy sauce now!” Spring Festival, usually the time for family cosiness, turns into a nightmare where you are constantly bombarded with questions and unwanted advice concerning your marital status. You may even find yourself in an awkward situation where you are lured into meeting a total stranger on a blind date.

But it is always the parents who are the most concerned. In the ad campaign, moms and dads express their worries over their single daughters, saying “don’t be so picky!”, “you’re already a leftover woman now”, “please get this solved as soon as possible”, and: “one day your single status will be a heavy burden to our heart”. The most serious of these concerns appears in the beginning of the film, where a man’s voice says resolutely: “Father will not die unless you get married!” (“你一天不结婚,父亲就一天不死”)

Marriage Corner, People’s Square, Shanghai

Why is marriage so important in China? In SK-II’s campaign, it is mainly explained through Chinese culture, where the traditional view holds marriage as an indispensable part of life, and where there’s a conception that only married women are ‘real’ women. Another cultural aspect is the Confucian philosophy of filial piety, a virtue of respect for one’s father. Not getting married is perceived as a defiance of filial piety.


The SK-II ad campaign that has gone viral on Chinese social media.

The pressure to marry becomes real tangible at the ‘marriage corner’ in People’s Square, Shanghai. For several years, parents get together at People’s Square at weekends. They write their children’s information on a piece of paper, including their appearance, job, income, education, and whether they have an apartment or a car. Parents can then look if any of the posted persons fits their ideal of the perfect son- or daughter-in-law. In 2014, an app named “Marriage Corner at People’s Square” was even published for iOS systems, allowing parents to continue their search online.

Although the marriage corner is a popular spot for parents helping their kids look for a partner, young people are generally not particularly enthusiastic about this idea. In the ad campaign, one woman says the marriage posts are like “commercial advertisement to sell a product.”

“I don’t want to marry for marriage’s sake. I will not be happy.”

In the final part of the video, the featured “leftover women” decide to go to the Marriage Corner themselves. Not to surrender to the pressure and settle on a husband, but to make their own “advertisements” with smiling pictures, saying: “I don’t want to marry for marriage’s sake; even single, I have a happy life which I love.”

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‘Confident’, ‘independent’, ‘life-loving’ – that is how these women define themselves. One father responds saying: “If she is happy with being single, we will respect her choice.”

Chinese netizens have collectively expressed their support for the women in the film. One netizen says, “Whether I am married or not is nobody’s business… even if I don’t marry until I’m 80, as long as I am happy, my dad has no say in it.”

Many also write about their wish to be the boss over their own marriage choice. Another netizen says: “Our society has always taught women how to lower their heads; it has never really respected women (..). I wish all girls live a happy, confident and courageous life!”

Calling for change in traditional view on women

The popularity of SK-II’s ad campaign is not surprising. Its chosen topic is a hot topic in China recently, as discussions about traditional views on women regularly flare up on social media.

On March 26, the story of a 27-year girl attempting suicide due to marriage pressure triggered heated discussions on Weibo. Many netizens identified with the girl, and told of their own experiences of being ‘forced to marry’ (逼婚).

Earlier this week, a heated discussion erupted about how society treats women, after the attack of a woman in a Beijing hotel.

Popular Weibo accounts such as Women’s Rights Voice post daily updates on women in China, their portrayal in the media, and gender equality.

pressure

Meanwhile, the SK-II video is still being shared and discussed on Chinese (social) media. Many netizens praise the brand for its smart marketing, others only see the message it brings: “Don’t let other people determine your future for you.”

– By Diandian Guo

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse

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It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

 
Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun
 

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Zara Dress Goes Viral in China for Resemblance to Haidilao Apron

Who’s gonna buy this Zara dress in China? “I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Manya Koetse

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A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao.

“I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

The “original” vs the Zara dress.

The dress has become a popular topic on Xiaohongshu and other social media, where some images show the dress with the Haidilao logo photoshopped on it to emphasize the similarity.

One post on Xiaohongshu discussing the dress, with the caption “Curious about the inspiration behind Zara’s design,” garnered over 28,000 replies.

Haidilao, with its numerous restaurants across China, is renowned for its hospitality and exceptional customer service. Anyone who has ever dined at their restaurants is familiar with the Haidilao apron provided to diners for protecting their clothes from food or oil stains while enjoying hotpot.

These aprons are meant for use during the meal and should be returned to the staff afterward, rather than taken home.

The Haidilao apron.

However, many people who have dined at Haidilao may have encountered the following scenario: after indulging in drinks and hotpot, they realize they are still wearing a Haidilao apron upon leaving the restaurant. Consequently, many hotpot enthusiasts may have an ‘accidental’ Haidilao apron tucked away at home somewhere.

This only adds to the humor of the latest Zara dress looking like the apron. The similarity between the Zara dress and the Haidilao apron is actually so striking, that some people are afraid to be accused of being a thief if they would wear it.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “The most confusing item of this season from Zara has come out. It’s like a Zara x Haidilao collaboration apron… This… I can’t wear it: I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Funnily enough, the Haidilao apron similarity seems to have set off a trend of girls trying on the Zara dress and posting photos of themselves wearing it.

It’s doubtful that they’re actually purchasing the dress. Although some commenters say the dress is not bad, most people associate it too closely with the Haidilao brand: it just makes them hungry for hotpot.

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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