A Skin Care Brand Bravely Stood Up for China’s ‘Leftover’ Women Unmarried After 25

'Marriage market' takeover

SK-II, a Chinese skin care brand, took over a so-called "marriage market"—where Chinese parents go to post elaborate personal ads for their daughters—to stand up for all the "leftover" women who aren't married, and are treated shamefully, after age 25.

A "sheng nu," or "leftover woman," is a derogatory term for an unmarried woman over 25. The film shows the pressure these women face from their parents and society—and often, themselves—to marry young, and then leads up to the poignant moment where they stand up to their parents' pressure.

Last year, Prestige International skin care brand SK-ll launched #changedestiny, an ongoing global campaign to inspire and empower women to shape their own destiny. This year, they've continued the theme with "Marriage Market Takeover," created by Swedish agency Forsman & Bodenfors in its first ad campaign in China.

It used to be that female beauty marketing was all about fear—fear of living up to an ideal, where the product was positioned as the solution that would make you feel better about yourself. But that philosophy has changed thanks to mountains of marketing that have made the point that looking good and feeling good are two different things. This campaign is another milestone on the road to turning around the very meaning of the beauty, and this time, it's international.

The marriage market is a place where Chinese parents essentially advertise children as marriage potential, listing their height, weight, salary, values and personality. In some cases, women are unaware that their parents have listed them on the market.

SK-II took over a traditional marriage market and created a huge, beautiful, night-lit installation created with its own version of "marriage ads," which were actually messages from hundreds of independent women saying they want to be in control of their own destiny, and could actually be happy without being married.

We get to see the wonderful reactions of the parents who, earlier in the film, were downright harsh—calling their daughters unattractive or worse, while sitting right beside them. After reading the display, they change their tone, moved by the words and beautiful photos of their daughters presumably wearing SK-II products.

If any were still backwards curmudgeons, we didn't get to see them in the film.

This is a powerful message, and one that's needed in many places. When I lived in Japan, unmarried women over 25 were still called "Christmas cakes," a reference to being discounted after Dec. 25. In Russia, I understand they're called "old maids," no food analogy.

But with women delaying marriage the world over to focus on education and careers, the stigma is going to fall. It'll only be a matter of time, and some well-placed messaging.

@rebeccacullers Rebecca Cullers is a contributor to Adweek.