Cannes in Context: Shiseido’s “High School Girl?”

Some things in life, and advertising, are not what they seem.

par Elizabeth Marks , MayDream: AdForum / The Epica Awards











This week AdForum celebrates Cannes Lions by analyzing the best creative work from the ad industry in 2015. To complement our special Cannes-themed editions of our Top 5 series, AdForum’s Global President Liz Marks takes an in-depth look at individual ads that made an impact this year.

Advertising has long been at the cultural forefront of our global community, drawing attention to important issues from environmental sustainability to early cancer detection practices. However, this year renowned Japanese skincare, make up, and fragrance brand Shiseido pushed our collective comfort levels with regard to sexual identity and gender stereotypes. Shiseido’s ad titled “High School Girls?” begins with a seemingly stereotypical expression of Japan’s kawaii culture – the culture of cute, essentially – and slowly reveals, as the make-up is removed from girls’ faces, that they are in fact, boys.

The efficacy of this ad lies not only in its unique means of highlighting the quality of the Shiseido’s products, but also in forcing us – the general public – to question our own predispositions when assessing gender biases and where, exactly, perception meets reality when it comes to our prejudices. Well, done, Shiseido on generating an acceptable amount of controversy, surprise, and even perhaps discomfort for some, while maintaining the integrity of your brand and generating sincere respect for and interest your products.