Pink Cadillac

I’m not sure what to make of this:

Four years after the death of Mary Kay Ash, nearly 350,000 Chinese women are emulating the icon, some earning big money selling TimeWise cleansers and facial whitening masks.

In every province, they’re reading her books, which have been translated into Chinese, and singing her songs, like “That Mary Kay Enthusiasm,” in Mandarin.

This fall, a few began driving her car, a pink Cadillac.

A decade after Mary Kay entered the country, China represents its second-largest market, even though a 1998 ban on direct sales threatened to ruin the venture. Within another 10 years, executives predict, this Asian giant could surpass the United States to be the No. 1 market.

The direct seller of skin care and cosmetics owes much of its success to an amazing marketing feat.

In a nation still coming to terms with memories of Mao Zedong and his Communist teachings, Mary Kay has gotten Chinese women to identify with a Caucasian cosmetics mogul with big hair.

This article, from the Dallas Morning News (and what city would better understand Big Hair?), had me alternately chuckling and shaking my head in the sheer wonder of just how weird the world can be. It profiles several Chinese Mary Kay distributors, some of whom are making six figure incomes. And it explains some of the adjustments that Mary Kay has had to make for the Chinese market:

In a country lacking religious freedom, Ash’s mantra – “God first, family second and career third” – became “Faith first, family second and career third.” “Principle” is often used instead of “faith”. And unlike in the United States, prayers are absent from large company gatherings.

The company also discovered it needed to broaden the appeal of its culture. In addition to Ash’s principles, such as her belief in the beautiful potential inside each and every human being, it added Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to its employee training seminars starting in 2000.

But one of its biggest challenges involved something much more mundane: where to hold its annual seminar.

The seminar, modeled after the one held every summer in Dallas, brings together the company’s managers and thousands of its sales force members for award ceremonies, executive speeches and educational sessions. The event helps motivate Mary Kay’s sales force each year.

Two years ago, the Chinese government, which is suspicious of large gatherings, told Mary Kay it couldn’t hold its seminar. It wanted the company to conduct smaller meetings around the country. But that would have defeated the seminar’s purpose.

So Mary Kay moved the event last year to Hong Kong. This past August, attendance reached 16,000.

But many of Mary Kay’s traditions have been transplanted to China intact. The pink cadillacs, for example. Mary Kays’ books and songs (including “That Mary Kay Enthusiasm”), translated into Mandarin. And this:

The day Hao officially debuts as a national sales distributor is filled with ceremony.

Twenty-one lower-level Mary Kay distributors, women Hao helps, form a circle around her. The lights go out. And the smell of melting candle wax begins to fill the air.

With her husband and 7-year-old daughter looking on, Hao calls out the name of each distributor. She gives each a hug, a personal note and a candle in the shape of a small ball of pink roses.

A few distributors silently cry. Others dab at their eyes. Gradually, a glowing circle of pink lights appears in the middle of the room.

Then, Hao picks up a tall pink candle and places it at the bottom of a giant heart-shaped candleholder. Her distributors follow her, setting their lit candle balls in the slots around the pink heart.

Everyone gathers around the now burning symbol of love, clasps hands and silently makes a wish. Together, the women blow out the candles and clap.

The Discussion: 10 Comments

Don’t forget Amway is big in China as well

December 8, 2005 @ 6:10 pm | Comment

Right, Dave. I don’t see the Mary Kay ladies, but I can hardly get through a day without crossing paths with an Amway distributor/missionary!

December 8, 2005 @ 7:15 pm | Comment

A friend of mine roped me into going to an Amway meeting once. It really IS like a cult!

December 8, 2005 @ 7:33 pm | Comment

Is it just me, or are there other people out there who have only the vaguest clue what Mary Kay and Amway actually are?

December 9, 2005 @ 7:05 am | Comment

Mary Kay, Amway, and … Avon!

The Great Amway Pyramid Scheme is the scariest, though.

December 9, 2005 @ 8:14 am | Comment

Dish, you don’t wanna know…

The article does a good job of describing the Mary Kay phenom, though…

December 9, 2005 @ 10:26 am | Comment

wow. while i was reading this, i thought, “wow, almost a religious experience. ” creepy.

i have been to a amway meeting before too. trully scary. people are so earnest and, i guess you can call them believe it like it is their faith.

it felt like, like, yep, a cult.

December 9, 2005 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

Not to mention all the pink.

December 9, 2005 @ 12:55 pm | Comment


You found yourself company: here’s another alien. Never heard of those undoubtedly highly reputed institutions before either, and after reading Lisa’s post, I don’t know if I want to. How about you: ready to enter the realm of smooth skin and powdered faces ?

December 9, 2005 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

Pink candles and the circle of love? Ha! I’m sure it’s much more along the lines of “Assume the position! Assume the position!” before being sodomized by Pepto-Bismol coloured dildos.

Which, you know, having being to a Market America meeting myself, is probably not that far from the truth.

December 9, 2005 @ 4:16 pm | Comment

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