SK-II finds success in selling to younger Chinese: P&G

Jasmine Xu at P&G spoke about the brand's youthful revamp approach and CSR initiatives during the Shanghai International Advertising Festival held late March.

SK-II finds success in selling to younger Chinese: P&G

In spite of the roaring success of its Marriage Market Takeover documentary-style film addressing the plight of 'leftover women' in China who are still single by their late 20s, SK-II played to a much younger tune a year later in a video showing young women frolicking with a graffiti-styled bottle of its product.

Speaking at the Shanghai International Advertising Festival recently, Jasmine Xu, P&G's president for e-business and branding for Greater China, did not call the a shift a turnaround, but said it is more necessary than ever for established brands to project a younger image.

Its bestseller facial treatment essence had had the same packaging for 35 years prior to the Your Statement, Your Bottle limited edition campaign released for the North Asia market last October. Chinese singer Leah Dou, one of the three campaign ambassadors, is of college age at 21, much younger than her counterpart Chinese actress Tang We,i who was first appointed as the Japanese brand's ambassador at 31.

"Even though it is a premium brand, we are delighted to see that the consumer base for SK-II is becoming younger in China," said Xu. "College students are the majority users of the brand now." 

She emphasised that a youthful revamp for P&G has become more pertinent since the conglomerate, headquartered in Guangzhou, is marking its 30th anniversary in China this year. "Having been in China for so long, we feel more like a local than an international brand," said Xu. "2018 is going to be a particularly important year because those who were born in 2000 will come of age this year," said Xu. 
 
Besides being digital natives, young Chinese from the post-95' generation enjoy more freedom and spending power than their predecessors born in the 80s, said Sherry Shi, senior brand PR manager.
"Our survey found that the amount of red packet money received by the post-95 generation is around 3,000RMB (US$476) per child, about five to seven times more than what the post-85 generation received years ago," said Shi. "Having more money allows the Chinese youth to explore their interests, and this is an aspect that brands have to pay attention to," she added.
 
Jasmine Xu
 
Meanwhile, P&G's sales in China picked up last year following a dismal 1% growth in 2016. CEO David Taylor had then admitted that P&G made a mistake by treating China, its second market in terms of sales and profit, as a developing market when Chinese consumers were in fact the most demanding in the world. The conglomerate said the double-digit growth in skin and personal care product sales in the first quarter of fiscal 2017 was driven by demand for premium brands such as SK-II in China. 

Echoing the views of Taylor and many brand marketers who think that Chinese consumers are hard to please, Xu said P&G strives to stand out from the clutter by injecting characters into its brands. "Brands that have a character are able to build empathy and have meaningful interactions with consumers," said Xu. 

While a bottle of SK-II that retails at 1,450 RMB (US$230) may not be within the reach of many Chinese consumers to build such empathy, P&G is well-placed to launch a number of CSR campaigns through its other brands. One such example was Whisper's outreach campaign to left-behind girls in rural areas experiencing menarche launched in 2016 as part of the global Like a Girl campaign. P&G has also partnered with JD.com for consumers to donate part of their purchase of the Whisper female hygiene products on the platform to the left-behind girls.

"We want to bring the plight of these children who have to go through puberty on their own to the attention of consumers. It is impossible to know the ROI for this campaign, but we will keep doing it," said Xu. 

Meanwhile, the predicament of left-behind children has been the centre of CSR campaigns for other P&G brands including Safeguard and Ariel. For example, Ariel partnered with a number of local NGOs to construct laundry facilities for left-behind children in the rural Jiuzhaigou region, whom were found to only be able to wash their clothes once a month. 

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