And Finally

Wiped out

‘Edgy’ television ad backfires on cleanser brand


The offending TV commercial

Hallmarks of beauty in much of Chinese society typically include V-shaped jaws, double eyelids and pale white skin.

Another sign of the times is the thousands of make-up tutorials that are posted to the Chinese internet, claiming to show how cosmetics can transform ordinary faces to ones that correspond to the highest standards of celebrity-beauty.

The ‘how-to’ videos are good news for firms that sell make-up remover too. The more cosmetics that are sold, the more wipes that are needed to remove the products.

But make-up-wipe producer Purcotton’s recent efforts to profit from the phenomenon have backfired spectacularly, sparking outrage from its key demographic: women.

The Shenzhen-based company’s mistake was to conflate the issue of make-up removal with violence against women – a subject of growing public debate in recent years.

In the controversial advertisement, a pretty young woman is filmed walking down a dimly-lit street with a sinister-looking man a few metres behind.

As she realises that the would-be attacker is gaining on her, the woman reaches into her handbag and pulls out a pack of Purcotton wipes. As he tries to grab her, she quickly scrubs a towelette across her face. At once she is transformed into a plain, toothy woman with a wide nose and a receding hairline.

Presumably the idea is to show that Purcotton make-up wipes work quickly and effectively. But the crassness of the commercial is incredible. The attacker recoils and a vomiting sound is played as the woman’s ‘real’ face is revealed, with a male actor playing the now ‘ugly’ victim.

Doubtless Purcotton thought the ad was edgy – often a dangerous game; just ask Dolce & Gabbana (see WiC434) – and it may even have imagined that female shoppers would like it because it acknowledges the concerns of many women about their personal safety.

But the campaign was soon sparking outrage and accusations of ‘victim blaming’ – the subtext being that women open themselves up to attack if they make an effort to look attractive.

“I don’t see a trace of respect for women in this video,” commented one angry Sina Weibo user.

“This ad perpetuates the myth that ugly women aren’t attacked,” chided another.

A series of horrific male-on-female attacks have been reported in the media in recent months including the case of a livestreamer who was doused with gasoline and set on fire during a broadcast from her kitchen.

Her ex-husband has been charged with her murder.

Back in July, many were also appalled when a county-level court in Henan refused a wife a divorce despite evidence of regular beatings from her husband (she had even jumped from a second-floor window to escape him in one instance).

China passed its first laws recognising domestic violence in 2015 but campaigners say there are still huge holes in the legislation because it doesn’t cover areas of sexual violence like marital rape.

However, in recognition that domestic violence is a real threat, the eastern city of Yiwu is trialling a new database that allows women to check if their partners have previous records of violence or abuse.

“Society is paying more and more attention to domestic violence… This system gives a warning to potential partners so they can know the risks before they get married,” quoted a Yiwu official as saying.

A recent pop song called Xiao Juan or “Jane Doe” has also captured the public mood by detailing several cases of domestic violence. “The same tragedy continues again and again, you have imprisoned my body and cut out my tongue,” the pop artist Tan Weiwei sings.

Her song has come in for wider coverage, including a description from the BBC, the British broadcaster, that it’s a “moody, excoriating diatribe against domestic violence” that has “inspired hundreds of thousands of Chinese women”.

But Tan’s chosen subject is still very unusual in the music industry, with few other singers prepared to address an issue “still considered a taboo topic for many,” the BBC added.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.