BEIJING • A Chinese advertisement for make-up wipes which linked a woman's appearance to the likelihood of assault has been taken down, and the company forced to apologise, after a backlash over "victim blaming".
The ad, released last week by Chinese cotton products manufacturer PurCotton, shows a woman walking home at night followed by a male stalker.
As he gains on her, she removes her make-up using the wipes and transforms into a man, scaring off the would-be attacker.
It was widely panned on Chinese social media, as users on the Twitter-like Weibo complained it made light of a serious issue and vowed to boycott the brand's products.
"Isn't this simply insulting the female sex? Making an advert out of a woman being stalked? This is a crime," wrote one user in a comment that drew over 50,000 likes.
Although the company has since apologised twice, it initially defended the ad as a "creative concept", prompting further outrage.
"To use women's worst fears and pain as the subject of an advert, and then defend it loudly - do you even have a brain?" read another comment with more than 30,000 likes.
Faced with a deepening public relations disaster, PurCotton wrote on Weibo last Friday that it attached "high importance" to the affair, and added that "as for the discomfort the video's content caused to everyone, we deeply apologise and will immediately take down the video".
But the Internet furore did not abate and PurCotton issued a longer apology on Monday.
The Weibo hashtag "PurCotton apology" had gained 500 million views as at yesterday morning.
Even state media weighed in on the controversy.
"It beautifies the criminal and smears the victim, and is full of prejudice, malice and ignorance," the official newspaper of the state-run women's rights group All-China Women's Federation wrote in a commentary last Friday.
The PurCotton brand, owned by Winner Medical Group, operates more than 240 stores across China, selling products such as clothing, tissues, sanitary pads and diapers.
It is the latest company to be ensnared as more and more Chinese social media users have called out ads deemed sexist in recent years, a trend that major international brands such as Ikea and Audi have also fallen foul of.
In November last year, Taiwanese supermarket chain RT-Mart apologised after Internet commentators accused it of "fat-shaming" customers. Plus-sized women's clothes in its Chinese stores were labelled "rotten" and "extra rotten", while sizes small and medium were labelled "skinny" and "beautiful".
A Chinese Audi ad in 2017 was heavily criticised for showing a bride being physically inspected at the aisle by her future mother-in-law, which drew comparisons to inspecting livestock or used cars.