BEIJING: SK-II, the premium Procter & Gamble-owned skincare brand, has seen "great results" from a campaign in China that ditched the usual celebrity endorsements and instead addressed the social issue of the pressures on young women to get married.

And it was not just the campaign itself that departed from the norm, as the Japanese brand brought in a Swedish agency which in turn worked with a Danish partner on media strategy. (For more, read Warc's exclusive report: SK-II Marriage Takeover: How a Japanese skin care brand cut through in China.)

My Troedsson, Planner at Forsman & Bodenfors in Sweden, told Warc how the brief – which tasked the agency with creating buzz, strengthening emotional connections and breaking the category language – had taken a long time to properly understand, but that once the team came across the phenomenon of sheng nu (the 'leftover woman'), they seized on it.

This is the term given to women who reach the age of 27 without getting married, and whose parents post ads describing them on public display in 'marriage markets'.

"The fact we came from outside enabled us to see this in a totally new way," explained Troedsson, as she outlined the disconnect between the traditional expectations of parents and the very different desires of women in today's fast-changing China.

"Everyone feels really pressured – parents and daughters – but they don't really talk about it and they feel very alone," she said.

That insight, along with research that revealed the target audience wanted to hear about more than just rational product benefits, indicated the direction for the campaign.

"We wanted to make use of the fact that no prestige skin care competitor had an emotional and values-driven communication approach," said Troedsson. And the marriage market gave them "a symbolic way to make a statement".

An installation in Shanghai's People's Park replaced the dating ads with personalised messages from single women declaring that their independence made them happy; a film focusing on four women and their parents was widely shared on social media both inside and outside the country and generated global media coverage

The result has been "a clear increase in sales both in-store and online and an increase in the inflow of new customers", Troedsson reported.

But perhaps more importantly, she added, "the ultimate goal is to celebrate women, whatever their personal choices may be, and make them feel valued and appreciated".

Data sourced from Warc