P&G beauty brand SK-II reacted to the pandemic-enforced delay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by pivoting to a tactical, social-first campaign targeting young Japanese women and fronted by swimmer Rikako Ikee.
P&G is an IOC Worldwide Partner with exclusive rights to the ‘Personal Care’ and ‘Household Products’ categories for the Olympic Games through the five Olympic Games between London 2012 and Tokyo 2020. It activates multiple brands with the property, including Ariel, Febreze, Pampers, Joy, Lenor, Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Gillette, Oral-B and SK-II.
SK-II, one of P&G’s premium skincare brands, is primarily targeted at the Japanese and East Asian markets.
Agency: WPP Black OPS Singapore, Grey Tokyo
Other organisations: MediaCom Singapore & VaynerMedia Singapore (media), Huge Singapore
SK-II’s activation campaign for Tokyo 2020 kicked off in 2019 when it signed a team of female athletic talent from multiple sports to front its marketing – the first time the brand had signed endorsements with sportspeople. These stars led a global activation called ‘Beauty Is #NOCOMPETITION’, which set out to challenge women to shatter toxic competitions in beauty.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic caused the postponement of Tokyo 2020 and forced the reworking of brand activation plans worldwide, SK-II paused its core campaign and pivoted its Olympic talent team to more tactical marketing initiatives, including a Japanese campaign that aimed to inspire hope amongst its primarily-female audience during unprecedented times.
The brand’s Japan marketing team briefed its agencies to create a positive, authentic campaign based around strength, resilience and inspiration – one that reflected the brand’s belief that ‘fate can be changed by its own will’ and its mission to ‘support women to take a step forward with courage and change their destiny’.
Working with the SK-II marketing team and partner agencies, WPP Black OPS Singapore and Grey Tokyo developed an activation called ‘This is Me. Rikako Ikee’ based around the athlete endorser and Tokyo 2020 ambassador.
Ikee, a Japanese freestyle and butterfly swimming star who appeared at the 2016 Olympics and was a medallist at the 2018 Asian Games, was diagnosed leukaemia in February 2019. After almost a year in the hospital, Ikee began to slowly work her way back to fitness.
The SK-II activation – running through 2020 – sought to tell the story of her struggle to return to competitive swimming in order to inspire hope in others during the pandemic.
With television and social media the chosen delivery methods, the campaign was designed to cut through the glossy, vague marketing so often seen in the cosmetics space. It was also informed by the insight that many young Japanese fiercely guard their ‘authentic’ selves – 70 per cent of female social media users in Japan have more than one Twitter account and there is even a specific term for this in Japanese: ‘裏垢 / ura-aka’.
The activation’s hero film launched in May 2020 and was simultaneously posted by Ikee and SK-II on their social channels (led by Instagram) alongside three personal portraits of the swimmer.
In the launch photo for the SK-II campaign posted on her personal Instagram, Ikee said: “Today, I will show you myself like this for the first time. These days, people around the world are having a tough time with all the anxiety. I’ll be happy if this message gives even a little hope for my fellow athletes and anyone battling similar hardships. Not having any hair isn’t something to be embarrassed about. Rather, I’m proud of my hair as it is. I’m proud of who I am. I wanted to be myself.
“As a swimmer, I don’t wear makeup and there’s no hiding your muscles in the pool. Now I just present myself as I am. I think when I get back in the pool, my true feelings will burst out. I’ve gotten over the hardest part and I’m on the road to recovery.”
View this post on Instagram
The campaign was supported by a dedicated microsite that hosted personal messages and letters from Ikee alongside an interactive photo diary exploring her hopes and challenges.
This is Me marked the first time in the brand’s 28-year history that a single female athlete campaign led its message.
The campaign generated 41 TV news story pieces, including on Japan’s top 5 rated TV stations (NHK, Nippon TV, TV Asahi, Fuji TV and TBS).
It was a top trending topic on Japan’s three main social channels: Line News, Twitter and Yahoo! News.
And it generated record brand social engagement including 300,000 organic video views across SK-II’s Instagram, Twitter and YouTube channels and historically positive engagement on SK-II Japan’s Twitter.