SK-II launches a new film studio to explore brand storytelling

Reta Lee
·Editor-in-Chief, Lifestyle
·9-min read
The Center Lane film by SK-II Studio. (PHOTO: SK-II Studio)
The Center Lane film by SK-II Studio. (PHOTO: SK-II Studio)

Skincare brand SK-II intends to tackle social pressures impacting women around the world through brand storytelling. And they’re doing this by launching its first new film studio, SK-II Studio. The P&G-owned Japanese cosmetics brand plans to release eight new short films this year. First, they’ve launched the first film, The Center Lane, which was directed by well-known director and Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Koreeda.

The film, released on 29 March, tells the true story of a 20-year-old Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who revealed she was battling leukaemia in February 2019. She recently received a berth at the Tokyo Olympics in the 4 x 100 medley relay after winning the women’s 100-meter butterfly at Japan’s national championship.

To understand more about the brand’s docu-drama and the new global film studio division, Yahoo Lifestyle SEA speaks to SK-II’s Global CEO, Sandeep Seth and SK-II Senior Brand Director Yoegin Chang.

I’m interested in finding out what were your top products sales in 2020 if any?

Seth: Last year proved extremely challenging with the pandemic, but from our products point of view, the consumer skincare line has continued to grow. Pampering has been a big part of what people have been doing, and our signature Facial Treatment Essence continues to be our number one product that is selling, thus creating growth for us.

Did SK-II pivot to online or digital malls during the pandemic?

Chang: We’ve seen a rapid increase in online commerce like the rest of the world has; I think it is critical for us to create a great brand experience online. We have set a lot of pilot programmes, and we are learning a lot as well. We definitely see very rapid growth across all markets.

Seth: Just building on that; in the Southeast Asian markets, we have expanded with Lazada online last Fall. But as Yoegin said, it's a combination of commerce and brand building online which is really increasing and the phenomenon of live-streaming. We’re making sure that we can serve our consumers and meet their needs, irrespective of the circumstances.

Do you work with specific brand ambassadors?

Seth: I would say it's a combination of things that we are piloting across different markets. I mean, if I look at China, which probably is the hotbed of live-streaming, we’ve piloted across with the beauty consultants. We have partnered with our brand ambassadors and some key opinion leaders as well.

So China is where I would say a full range of things are happening, but as we look at different markets, we are piloting things in Japan, where we work with some of the media partners, brand ambassadors and influencers.

I think it's not who we partner with; it’s what experiences we bring. Eventually, we are seeing differentiators. You know, in this world of social distancing where everything is contactless, everyone's really craving for conversation, someone to ask questions and some kind of concern.

I think that's our endeavour to create that one-to-one conversation to allow our consumers to fully experience the brand category.

Inspiration is something that we're really bringing to the fore. It’s centred around a woman and the pressures, and it's more important now because the dynamic has diverse pressures on every individual and women.

Fortunately, I think that is where we want to really lend our voice and help out the community.

The Center Lane film by SK-II Studio. (PHOTO: SK-II Studio)
The Center Lane film by SK-II Studio. (PHOTO: SK-II Studio)

Retail is so important for reaching out to consumers. How did the brand’s stores pivot during the pandemic?

Chang: I am a global marketing senior brand director for Japan, as a business leader until six months back. Japan, is one of the markets that is very heavy on the offline business versus online like China. And this pandemic has actually accelerated a lot of our things. One was moving things to online retail but also having a meaningful offline retail experience.

If you can just do one-click shopping, that's always a better option versus taking all the risk and all the temperature check and check-ins to get to a location. But one of the things that we learn is consumers want to know more about how their skin works. When consumers come to the store, we want to provide what she is craving and what she cannot get on her mobile.

In the past six months, we have created a very different experience through our contactless counselling; it's not a machine, but it's a diagnostic tool that can capture your skin and suggest what is best for you.

I think it's really primarily about how you create or simulate a similar counselling experience or make it as contactless as possible so that you do not risk the spread of COVID. We have taken all measures to ensure full hygiene and employed very detailed protocol for all of the consultants on the store on how to handle products, sanitise everything, and the frequency they need to achieve. There has been a big focus, both to protect our people and make sure the highest degree of sanitisation and protection is provided to each shopper who comes in.

Why is the brand branching into video storytelling format with SK-II studio?

Seth: You know, we've always been committed to our brand purpose of #changedestiny. Storytelling has been a big part of what we've been doing for nearly seven years or so now. We started with the campaign on the Marriage Market takeover back in 2016. Since then, we've launched a series of campaigns like 2017’s Expiry Date, 2018’s Meet Me Halfway. We also created a series of documentaries called Timelines with journalist Katie Couric.

So we have been heavily committed to storytelling as a way to define and spread inspiration. With that in mind, the pandemic has also impacted everyone heavily over the last year; we realise that consumers and people are really looking at brands to provide much more responsible communication in that sense.

On #changedestiny, we decided that it's time for us to take the next step and set up SK-II Studios and are committed to making this an integral part of what we do by bringing in the right talent in house. 

We are continuously expanding that capability in-house while partnering with creative agencies and other partners to make sure that our storytelling is key to building a brand. Still, more importantly, diversity will change the subsidies that we serve.

Chang: Ikee-Rikako-san is the Japanese swimmer featured in SK-II Studio’s first film, The Center Lane, which will be followed by seven more – stories of other different athletes – so there will be more content in the next couple of months.

After that, we will also highlight sustainability as we are committed to making a difference in this. That is why we have added this to our purpose pillar on #changedestiny. One of the first things that you will see physically is in the next peak season of Christmas – our bottles will be fully recycled, and that is something that we will be continuing to push through.

What are your plans to capture the millennial audience?

Seth: Let me talk a bit from a strategy point of view, and you can jump in with some of the plans. As a brand, we strive to be all-inclusive; we would want to serve every consumer irrespective of age, race, gender.

We are glad that many women and men across Asia worldwide find this product and really embrace it. So we couldn't want to change that per se. As a beauty brand, we need to stay relevant to attract more and more consumers.

Chang: I think being attractive to the younger generation – Gen Z's and millennials – will be critical for anybody to survive through the generations. A lot of the work we're doing both from a campaign point of view and a product education point of view is going towards that direction.

With #changedestiny, we are making sure that it's a story that can inspire anyone, especially our younger generation. Ikee-Rikako-san, who at 18, underwent a life struggle to a whole new degree that not every one of us can relate to.

As a male CEO, you work very closely with your female colleagues. How do your colleagues lean on you as a male ally?

Seth: Oh, it's a great question. I'm truly inspired to work with this team and all the amazing women that have enabled me to be this leader. I'm only as good as my team, and I think I have one of the most outstanding teams that come up with some of these amazing ideas and represent them on their behalf. Look, when I started working on skincare, it's been 20 years. We started with Olay back in 2001 and then moved on to SK-II in 2011, and to be very honest, skincare was totally alien to me. It was something that I did not understand myself, and I've come a long way. I have a seven-step regimen myself every morning.

I'm not going to throw in cliches of women power or anything because that's not how I see my colleagues. I see these, you know, women who are truly inspiring. They have a passion for the purpose to make a difference. And I think my role is to really continue to drive passion, provide all the support that I can, and bring that to life in the best possible way. To end this, I would say I am extremely fortunate to be part of this team.

Chang: It's actually interesting because, in our team, we don't think so much about female versus male issues. I do know there are social issues out there, but I've been very fortunate in that sense.

The company provides an opportunity for equality; actually, our leadership team is, I think, more female than male. We try our best to really make sure we make a difference, and I think these are the different social pressures that we've talked about the hour, and hopefully, we can get at least one person to rethink over choices and make the right choice.