Last year was firmly shaken by the disturbing level of sexual predation in Hollywood and beyond. Harvey Weinstein became a symbol of sexual abuse and chauvinism, galvanized in the 'Me Too' movement that became Time’s most influential ‘person’ of the year.
The impact on our industry took little time to materialize. A recent Jimmi Choo spot starring model and actor Cara Delevigne, was criticized for being “tone deaf” in the current media climate. There is limited acceptance of the ad’s focus on cat-calls and lecherous male gazes.
The local Chinese context
While we can expect an understandable level of sensitivity in the United States and Western markets—will Me Too have an impact on China brand communication?
A reality of China’s emerging professional class is their engagement with global media culture. Unlike their older peers born in the 1980s and earlier, the emerging professional class’ identity and values are constructed in line with global millennial norms. They are proudly Chinese, but consider themselves global citizens.
A key part of the post-90s identity is the idea of gender equality. Raised as only-children, their gender was irrelevant to their own family, meaning the whole generation was brought-up as ‘prodigal sons’.
The family’s resources were dedicated to their educational and professional success. As a result, very few young Chinese women consider themselves in lesser than males, with most considering themselves better.
This reality is further reinforced by the gender imbalance created by the One Child Policy. With more guys than girls, guys need to be as conscious to “what a girl wants”. Being a male chauvinist is a shortcut to being socially ostracized.
When Resonance conducts mixed-gender ethnographies with the post-90s, a common observation is the intuitive chivalry shown by males. This goes well beyond opening doors to ensuring that female friends have first say on everything from ordering food to predictions on the football.
Importance of tonality
While chauvinism is ever-present in China, supporting an informal KTV economy on its own, attention does need to be shown by advertisers in the area of gender expression.
Presentation of women as sexually objectified flies in the face of how both younger women and men see themselves, and their generation.
The idea of traditional housewives, doting girlfriends and dutiful office workers do not fit the contemporary reality or local consumer expectation. Brands clinging to these historical characters consign themselves to irrelevance.
Proctor and Gamble learnt this the hard way last year with their over-use of male celebrities to sell cosmetics. Initial buzz dissipated as consumers realized ‘buying into’ this version of themselves contradicted their personal identity as young women.
As Chinese post-90s catch the disturbing fallout of Me Too, it will undoubtedly steel their viewpoints on how gender is presented by brands—their way to further affirm themselves as globally-connected citizens.
However, a rejection of sexist content was an established key point of pride for this generation well before sexual scandal broke in Hollywood last year.
To engage them relevantly, present the sexes as modern and equal. Not because has become the global thing-to-do, but because on-the-ground reality in China has demanded it for some time.
|Jerry Clode is head of digital insight and director of SMART Research at Resonance China.|