Brands in China have cooperated with philanthropic organisations to support vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of people, especially women, in the Chinese market for at least two decades.
Some of the projects supporting women in rural and remote areas have kept evolving over the past few years, thereby changing brand storytelling and the way brands interact with consumers. While some of these efforts have resulted in heartwarming campaigns, even award-winning ones, what's more important is how effective they've been.
PepsiCo’s long-term projects supporting mothers
One of the first movers was PepsiCo, when the brand began to support the ‘Water Cellars for Mothers’ project in 2001, partnering with China Women’s Development Foundation (CWDF).
Over the years, this project committed to improving access to water for families in remote areas of central and western China, becoming one of the most successful long-term purpose-led projects for the brand.
Data shared by Lilly Yip, PepsiCo’s APAC CMO and chief sustainability officer, showed that from 2001 to 2022, the brand donated over US$10 million and helped 2.9 million people access safe water, renovate toilets and improve sanitation systems.
There is a Chinese saying, “the highest excellence is like that of water”. So starting from improving water safety, PepsiCo concentrated on a series of charity and philanthropic projects, such as ‘Mother’s Parcel Post’ (sending gifts to women in remote areas) and ‘The Genius Mom’ (mothers' handicraft workshops to support women employment).
These programs supported mothers from poverty-stricken areas, providing local employment and entrepreneurship among women while preserving traditional artistry in embroidery, paper cutting and tie-dye crafts. Supporting with donations was the first step; the longer-term goals are to create sustainable growth and transform lives.
Take the embroidery handicraft studio in Ruyuan, Guangdong province, for example. Since 2019, the studio has accumulated 4.68 million yuan (US$740,000) for three consecutive years with 230 local women directly benefitting from the project or being actively influenced by it.
Yip once told Chinese media: “The innovative combination of branding and philanthropy can lead to two-way empowerment”. It not only benefits those directly in the programmes, but allows Pepsi to educate young Chinese consumers to appreciate their own traditions and support the welfare of women, Yip says.
Internet interaction with consumers maximising charity programmes
Key to doing this, of course, is a brand's ability to leverage its own platforms, marketing channels and partnerships. In 2017, PepsiCo’s philanthropic projects extended its outreach to more people through the Tencent charity platform for ‘Mother’s Parcel Post’.
In recent years, Internet giants in China, including Tencent, Alibaba, ByteDance and Bilibili, have joined others in building a purpose-led movement to benefit women who live in poor conditions through corporate foundations and the power of consumers.
Tencent helped bring the worlds of gaming and charity together in 2018 to create a new model for giving. It involved creating a game whereby donors could collect “Little Safflower” and have donations matched. By September 2021, this Tencent campaign engaged over 125 million users.
Ant Group launched a new gamified way to support sustainable initiatives through Ant Forest in 2016 and Ant Farm in 2017. Users could donate directly and use Alipay while playing the games, such as feeding chickens and donating eggs to support charity programmes and be rewarded for making sustainable choices.
One of the most notable charitable projects for women in China is called "Come On Mulan" (加油木兰), operated jointly by CWDF and Alibaba. Combining charity and internet insurance, the Mulan project provides free public welfare insurance for women from underprivileged families and offers them health protection and educational opportunities. In addition to donations from the public, Ant Foundation also makes direct donations.
According to Ant, by August 2021, the total amount of donations received by the project has exceeded 100 million yuan (US$15.8 million) and has provided free public insurance for more than 2.3 million women, receiving the China Charity Award.
Data shared by Alibaba show that its rural revitalisation programme in Pinshun, Shanxi province, helped local women with new opportunities in their hometowns through ecommerce and digital technology. Now, women account for more than 60% of the livestreamers in the rural areas of Pingshun, and rural women account for 70% of the employment related to livestreaming and ecommerce.
Decades of consumers’ education and interaction from brands like PepsiCo have not gone without impact, especially in the younger generation. When Tencent Marketing Insight (TMI) released its Post-00s Generation Lifestyle Insights Report, it found that products combining environmental protection and charity and philanthropy are more likely to attract the attention of the post-00s generation (young people born after 2000). Environmental protection and charity ranks as the fourth most crucial element to attract their attention, right after anime/cartoon, study, and gaming, surpassing all the other elements, including KOLs, celebrities, trendy topics, and co-branding.
Therefore brands looking to improve the lives of women in China through meaningful programs and engagements can continue to find a receptive audience.