Ad Nut
Jul 30, 2021

Olay's 'Fearless' takes on standards of beauty in China

In a campaign by Grey Hong Kong for the mainland market, the P&G beauty brand ruminates on the supposed ideals of physical appearance. Let's hope it really practices what it's preaching.

'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder', while true, is also a big, stinky lie. In reality, especially when it comes to women and their appearance, beauty is very much in the 'eye' of a societal standard that's both unrealistic and reinforced through millions of curated and heavily retouched images of a highly curated subset of women who work as models. It's an entirely unrealistic and fastidiously manufactured ideal—one that even those carefully selected and groomed models cannot attain without extensive image manipulation. Yet women end up feeling that they aren't 'normal'—or worse, that they are less worthy—if their looks don't conform to it.

In short, it's a really weird thing that you humans do to each other. Scratch that. It's an extremely damaging and utterly pointless thing that you humans do to each other. Among squirrelkind, we celebrate our differences, and the idea that one squirrel would be worth more than another because of something like the size of their jowls would be seen as sheer lunacy. A squirrel who espoused such a viewpoint would be shunned, and possibly submitted for psychological testing.

What's prompted Ad Nut to get all philosophical about aesthetics today? It's a new campaign from Olay, by Grey Hong Kong but for the mainland China market.

Called 'Fearless of judgement', it features La Mu Yang Zi, a Chinese actress, who opines about her own appearance in comparison to the 'ideal'. "I have my own beauty," she asserts. 

The brand says it wishes to "empower women to express beauty in their own way by stating that beauty has many faces and should not be defined by social standards". The company cites a recent survey that showed that six out of 10 females in China say they lack confidence in their appearance and feel anxious about how others may perceive them if they don't fit into what is considered to be 'normal'.

The above film was released on several online platforms including DouYin, Weibo and Wechat. The campaign also involved a partnership with standup comedy show Xiao Kou, which invited Yang Li, a famous female comedian, to talk candidly about 'facial anxiety'. Additional celebrities, writers, bloggers and other KOLs are also involved.

The message here is not exactly revolutionary, but it is, unfortunately, still a necessary one. And Ad Nut likes the way it's been handled.

Ad Nut fervently hopes that Olay intends to eschew the use of unrealistic images that reinforce the 'ideal' throughout its above- and below-the-line marketing. And also that it will stop selling whitening products. Because to do otherwise while releasing work like this would be hypocritical. And we can all agree that wouldn't be a good look.

Final note: Ad Nut is heartened that Olay (and other brands) seem to have realised that proclaiming 'inner beauty' is not a wise path. Many brands went in that direction when they first started to realise that unattainable standards were doing harm. But of course telling people that they are beautiful on the inside only reinforces that you think they're not beautiful on the outside. A more enlightened view is that all kinds of physical appearance are beautiful.

In fact, that's not a 'view', it's reality! Among people—and woodland creatures—there's a huge range of physical features that are turn-ons for someone. Ad Nut, for example, has a thing for squirrels that have tufts of fur atop their ears, such as this fine specimen. Meow.


Sorry, Ad Nut got a bit distracted for a moment.

The point Ad Nut was trying to make is that on top of the harm it does, the narrow definition of beauty seems like bad business. Isn't it stupidly limiting to act as if only 'ideal' beings are sexually attractive, when your base of potential customers is much broader and more open-minded? Instead, lean into the diversity and the sexiness! Speak to the real desires of your potential customers. Find ways to make products that fit their reality. And please, consign to the dustbin of history the tried-and-true—but shameful—advertising tactic of making people feel inadequate.


Client: P&G Greater China, Skin Care – Olay
President, Greater China Olay & Personal Care and Global Safeguard: SK Lee
Vice President: Hyoeun Kim
General Manager: Victor Leung
General Manager: Vivian Lee
Brand Director: Vera Zhong
Brand Manager: Lydia Xiong

AGENCY:     GREY Hong Kong
Davi Sing, Regional Chief Creative Officer
Joe Yue, Creative Partner
Duffy Lau, General Manager
Bobby Chiu, Creative Director
John Lo, Head of TV Production
Mia Gao, Associate Creative Director
Ivan Tang, Associate Account Director
Jamie Wong, Senior Account Manager

Ad Nut is a surprisingly literate woodland creature that for unknown reasons has an unhealthy obsession with advertising. Ad Nut gathers ads from all over Asia and the world for your viewing pleasure, because Ad Nut loves you. You can also check out Ad Nut's Advertising Hall of Fame, or read about Ad Nut's strange obsession with 'murderous beasts'.


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