Post the Lunar New year, March is often viewed as a big shopping festival in China. As a result, International Women's Day has often been stripped of its true importance and turned into a ripe opportunity for marketers and brands to capitalise on commerce. The focus has been more on discounts, freebies, and new launches rather than debates and discourses around women's empowerment.
The trend seems to be changing. China is the third-largest market for women, tailing United States and Japan, and the voices around “she economy” and “she power” are getting stronger. It’s hard for brands to ignore that anymore. The shifting sentiment was clearly visible in a few new campaigns that built emotional connections with the female audience.
Campaign asked leading marketers in China about the brands that showed social change and greater awareness around female empowerment this International Women’s Day.
Katy Guan, strategy director at Mountains, an independent brand consulting agency in China, shared an example of Proya. This C-beauty brand has continued to educate consumers about gender and equality over the past few years.
“Everything starts from how the brands understand International Women’s Day - why does it exist? When it comes to gender equality, it’s a brave decision for brands to stand with women and talk about the elephant in the room, which might touch a nerve in public discussion.
The first campaign that came into my mind is “‘It’s gender, not border.’ from Proya, a top Chinese beauty brand that has witnessed rapid growth in recent years. It has created a movement on social media platforms that is basic education about gender equality, which should be a common understanding in our society. Still, no brands or organisations discuss it. It becomes a long-term platform that constantly brings positive impact to society. This year, they continued the thematic campaign and launched a picture book to educate the public further that gender is never the border. ”
And it’s not just the clever tagline; Proya’s campaigns have pioneered continuous consumer education and are aligned with the younger generation’s strong values about equality in all aspects of life. Not just Guan, Ashley Dudarenok, founder of Alarice and Chozan, discusses this campaign as a case of solid emotional connections for her “she economy” column “4 Trends in China’s ‘She’ Economy”.
Dudarenok observes, “IWD is changing,” as “more and more women around the world are choosing not to celebrate” it, “all while they are all up for championing women in every respect.”
She believes that this year’s theme of International Women’s Day #EmbraceEquity, reflects the new trend that “IWD and equity-based solutions shall not be just something we talk about once a year. We must think, know, value, embrace, act on, evaluate and improve upon it all the time. ”
She also shared her understanding that “equal opportunities are no longer enough. The difference between equity and equality is huge. Equality means giving everyone the same. Equity means creating an inclusive world. Equity is a long-term and sustainable solution and is a process for addressing imbalanced social systems.” She added that brands “inject equity-based solutions in all aspects of their business and selectively spotlight them.”
In Dudarenok’s view, Chinese lifestyle DTC brand Neiwai’s campaign, “My Body To Me,” is inspiring and brave for the audience. “In celebration of International Women’s Day, the campaign relies on modern dance and physical theatre to show a woman’s self-questioning process. It encourages self-acceptance by asking questions that women often sideline or completely overlook. ”
The campaign made waves on social media. Netizens' comments echoed Dudarenok’s viewpoint that IWD shall not be just about one day in a year.
However, Neiwai broke the circle online in China before. Three years ago, its video “No body is nobody” became a smash hit immediately after its release. Last year, it also launched a collaboration campaign with L'Oréal to encourage women to embrace the look of their natural skin tones and types and promote natural beauty.
A step ahead, Dudarenok says, “to catch and feature successes, wins, and cases. We need more role models, successful implementations, and more of what works. Find topics and examples within your organisation, market, industry, customers, and customers. Then, launch a feature campaign to inspire the masses.
She picked up a Chinese chocolate brand Hershey’s “Sheroes” campaign “that focused on the achievements of three women in different fields – artist, teacher, and photographer. Hershey aims to celebrate the ‘Sheroes’ in modern-day society by showcasing the personal and professional achievements of women who help, protect, and create for their community.”
Another point she talked about is “acting on equity-focused principles every day and walking the talk.” But, she added, “your organisation, its culture, the way you work and interact with external agents and clients will do the heavy lifting. Genuinely care and focus on the end goal of seeing a 50% female representation at all levels. This won’t be a short-term campaign, so to say, but rather the way of doing business, the way of leading change – and it no doubt will pay off.”
Dudarenok talks about Charles & Keith as an example who hired the Singapore teen ridiculed for calling their bags as “luxury” items in a TikTok video. Further, Charles & Keith also created a special edition of purple handbags, with 20% of the sales proceeds donated to fund the program. In addition, they gathered talented employees from various market offices to express their opinions on equity.”
When Charles & Keith started the global campaign with a purple handbag, Dove, a Mars Wrigley brand, unveiled its new global brand purpose, “Your Pleasure has Promise”, and extended this programme to rural areas in Guizhou, China. Dove's "She Academy" will soon begin to support women, their families and their communities. The brand also encourages Chinese consumers to join the relay of supporting women in rural areas by purchasing chocolate or sharing a teaching assistant certificate with a serial number via the WeChat mini-programme to maximise the impact of “She Academy” through China’s No. 1 social media platform.
Lynn Zhang, managing director of Kantar China, has been observing the cultural essence behind consumption trends in China, adds the Kantar team “believes that individuals are projecting their distinctive values, aspirations and unique personality traits through different manifestations of expression as well as consumption.”
Zhang shared the latest research data from Kantar’s Global Monitor and China Monitor
81% of consumers believe it is right to advocate their views or preferences without caring about what other people think.
68% of consumers hope to have more customised products to meet their personal needs.
79% of Chinese consumers agree with the statement ‘be loyal to yourself and strive to be your true self’.
To her, “female empowerment and genderless inclusivity represent that individualism evolves towards multiple dimensions, driven by internal needs of meaningful uniqueness and maturing authenticity.” However, she added that “brands should be aware that formulating and representing such different dimensions are influenced by a growing sense of confidence expressed through subtle and refined taste and cues as consumers don’t need to convey ‘show’ (exhibitionism) but ‘know’ (connoisseurship).”
Zhang thought that “for IWD campaigns that serve specific purpose around identity, rather than creating distinction through external uniqueness and loud statements, brands should embrace authenticity through showcasing more moderate attitudes and subtle tastes.”