Sue Kyung Lee, Global CEO of SK-II, on a Viral Campaign Challenging Age Expectations

The campaign narrative champions the spirit of “BU ZHUANG” – urging individuals to embrace their true selves as they age.

Sue Kyung Lee (Image via SK-II)

Earlier this year, global skincare brand SK-II launched a campaign in China that featured a thought-provoking film, “#越大越不ZHUANG#: How are these women more youthful with age?”  It chronicles the transformation journey of five women as they embrace their true selves as they age.

Statistics shared by SK-II found that 4 out of 5 women in China have felt the need to “ZHUANG” and put on a front to fit into society’s expectations that come with age.

The campaign, which champions the spirit of “BU ZHUANG”,  became one of the most viral and talked-about brand topics on the Chinese social platform Little Red Book with 14 million views, and over 400 million views on Douyin, and more than 400,000 engagements. It sparked discussions about how women are expected to look as they grow older while also sharing the choices they’ve made to stand apart and find their truest selves.


 

To learn more, we spoke with Sue Kyung Lee, Global CEO of SK-II. Over the course of our conversation, she talks about the inspiration for the campaign, the cultural insights that drove it, key learnings for the brand, and more.


The campaign takes a bold stance against societal pressures for women to conform to certain expectations as they get older. What inspired SK-II to tackle this issue, and why was it an important message for the brand?

Consumers are at the heart of all that we do at SK-II. In order to serve our consumers better than anyone else, we need to have the deepest understanding of her—her lifestyle and values. We talked to our consumers in-store, held focus groups and did a deep dive into social conversations to find out the pressures and expectations that Chinese women were facing. And what we uncovered was a growing cultural shift towards independence and self-aspiration; to ‘unmask’ yourself and redefine society’s expectations of what it means to be a woman.

At SK-II, this is very much aligned with our brand values of authenticity and being true to yourself over many decades. We have a powerful and authentic story with our brand and our iconic and exclusive PITERA, and we are constantly looking to find meaningful ways to connect with our consumers through genuine stories of how and why SK-II with PITERA™ continues to transform the skin of millions of women around the world. The ‘More Youthful as You Age #越大越不ZHUANG’ campaign that shines a spotlight on real-life stories of long-term SK-II users and PITERA lovers who have redefined society’s expectations is a key example of this.


 

“What we uncovered was a growing cultural shift towards independence and self-aspiration; to ‘unmask’ yourself and redefine society’s expectations of what it means to be a woman.”

What were some of the key considerations when selecting the real SK-II users featured in the campaign, and how do their stories reflect the changing values and lifestyles of everyday Chinese women?

We wanted to feature SK-II users with real, authentic stories of self-transformation that would reflect the changing values and lifestyles of Chinese women from all walks of life. The ‘More Youthful as You Age #越大越不ZHUANG’ film covers a range of stories, from pursuing passions after a divorce, restarting life at 60 years old and defying marriage age expectations to giving up a high-paying executive job to start up a dream business. All of these stories showcase the choices that everyday Chinese women are making to defy social expectations and norms, and pursue their truest selves with courage.

The dual meaning of “zhuang” (to mask by ‘putting on a front’ and ‘putting on your face with makeup’) seems central to the campaign’s messaging about embracing one’s true self versus putting on an act. Can you expand on why this cultural insight resonated so deeply?

The concept of “ZHUANG” is deeply ingrained in society. 4 out of 5 women in China have felt the need to “ZHUANG” and put on a front to fit into society’s expectations that come with age. But things are starting to change with growing trends on social media where women claim back their narrative and are unafraid to show their true selves.

‘More Youthful With Age #越大越不ZHUANG’ in celebration of International Women’s Day is based on a Little Red Book social trend of ‘Liberate Your Beauty’ where women were setting a new beauty standard of being bare-faced. The dual meaning of ‘More Youthful With Age #越大越不ZHUANG’ about embracing both your bare skin and your true self as you age has resonated deeply with our audience, many of whom have been prompted to come forward on Little Red Book and share their own courageous choice to “BU ZHUANG”.

With millions of views online, the campaign resonated with many people. What has the broader response and dialogue been like, especially from your target consumers?

In just two weeks, the film went viral on Chinese internet with over 14 million views on Little Red Book, over 400 million views on Douyin, over 400,000 engagements and overwhelming news coverage including top national news such as CCTV, Xinhua and People’s Daily.

Our campaign has been met with enthusiastic acclaim from our consumers in China, who deeply connect with the narrative. They see it as a pioneering concept that champions the spirit of “BU ZHUANG” – urging individuals to embrace their bare skin and their true selves. This resonance has sparked an affection for our brand as well, fostering a strong sense of admiration among our audience.

“Our campaign has been met with enthusiastic acclaim from our consumers in China, who deeply connect with the narrative. They see it as a pioneering concept that champions the spirit of “BU ZHUANG” – urging individuals to embrace their bare skin and their true selves.”

SK-II has previously run impactful campaigns like “Marriage Market Takeover” that challenge societal norms. How does “More Youthful With Age” build on the brand purpose of empowering women?

At SK-II, we believe in giving women the courage to choose their own destiny, be it in skin or in life. Chinese women are facing more expectations than ever before, and they’re responding with a growing trend towards independence and self-aspiration. With “More Youthful With Age #越大越不ZHUANG’ throwing a much-needed spotlight on the unique journeys of women who are standing up to the concept of “ZHUANG” and choosing to be true to themselves, we hope to inspire women around the world to be unafraid to “BU ZHUANG” as they age.

“What captures hearts and minds are powerful, authentic stories.”

The viral success validates SK-II’s creative approach, but are there any key learnings you can share about creating authentic storytelling that resonates in today’s social media landscape?

If you look at the world today and the type of content that our consumers watch and scroll through daily, it’s all about stories. From Douyin to Little Red Book – what captures hearts and minds are powerful, authentic stories.

At SK-II, we have a powerful and authentic story with our brand and PITERA™. We’re constantly looking for meaningful ways to connect with our consumers through genuine stories of how and why SK-II with PITERA™ continues to transform the skin of millions of women around the world.

This leads into understanding that our consumers also want to tell their own stories. They seek experiences that they can share on the same platforms that they consume stories on.

This is why the ‘More Youthful With Age #越大越不ZHUANG’ campaign launched this International Women’s Day behind the ‘Liberate Your Beauty’ trend on Little Red Book had the level of success and engagement it did. We featured the personal stories of five long-term SK-II users and PITERA lovers and how they unmasked and redefined what being a woman meant to them, and this sparked a movement among Chinese consumers to tell their stories on Douyin and Little Red Book and join the conversation.

 

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