JD Beauty has apologized for its latest marketing campaign, which sparked an outcry for being too sexist, and has created more grief for its wealthy owner.

To prepare for strong competition with giant rival Alibaba Group on the upcoming Singles Day, JD.com ran a tagline on its express gift boxes with the motto “Without lipstick, how are you different from a man?”

Unfortunately, this idea immediately caused a storm with critics saying “The ad discriminates against women without make-up” and “Using lipstick or not is none of your business”.

Worse still, many netizens brought up the fact that the company’s owner – JD.com founder Richard Liu – was accused of rape in Minneapolis in early September, although there has not been an official charge laid against Liu.

JD.com immediately sought to downplay the storm by offering a sincere apology for the inappropriate wording on its gift boxes.

In a statement, JD Beauty said: “JD.com is still in a development stage and the inappropriate copywriting this time was caused by a pursuit of sales tricks. We will handle the case solemnly and improve our auditing process to avoid making similar mistakes again.”

JD Beauty ordered 300,000 delivery boxes, but reportedly only sent out a small proportion of them. It plans to send a complimentary gift to the customers who got the boxes, and will destroy those remaining.

The aggressive marketing push reflected how eagerly JD.com, a distant second behind Alibaba Group, which has 57% of China’s e-commerce, wanted to compete on the world’s largest shopping day – November 11.

Last year, Alibaba Group made a record US$25 billion on Singles Day, compared to $19.1 billion by JD.com, which hosted an 11-day shopping festival. The two e-commerce giants reported a total of $44.5 billion in sales.

Alibaba pledged this year will be another record-breaking year, thanks to more promotions to its retail system in China and other countries that will take part in the shopping extravaganza.