International Women's Day: Just another day for brands to sell?

By turning the day into another excuse for retail therapy, have brands lost the thread? And does commercialisation risk a backlash?

International Women's Day: Just another day for brands to sell?

Judging by the number of retail promotions in the run up to 8 March, it appears that International Women's Day has fallen into the same league as Mother's Day and Valentine's Day: a reason for brands to ramp up their marketing. 

Brands including Under Armour and Lancome are giving away free gifts and discounts, while Zalora Singapore's International Women's Day message calls on shoppers to make a statement with bold colours, an allusion to the #BeBoldForChange theme this year. 

Pascal Martin, partner with OC&C Strategy Consultants, rightfully pointed out that certain brands have gradually changed the perception of International Women's Day, especially among younger consumers. 

Alibaba's Tmall has rolled out a full-fledged "3.8 I'm the Queen" (3.8女王节) campaign, calling on women to pamper themselves with retail therapy, because "they deserve the best". The B2C marketplace has even hired an astrologer to give shopping tips to women based on their horoscopes.

"Women's Day (妇女节) is originally perceived as a day for middle-aged women [due to the term in Chinese, which refers to married women]," said Martin. By calling it "Queen's Day", the brands are making the event more relatable to younger women and hence encouraging more consumption, said Martin. 

Lancome has followed suit with a similar approach with its message for women to love themselves and shop ahead, while Star Cruises offered a line-up of flower-arrangement classes and cheongsam-themed tea parties (the latter item was so retrograde that it made it into Campaign's "WTF" feature). 

Martin said such campaigns are subtle gestures to celebrate femininity, rather than gender parity as befitting International Women's Day.

"Brands have chosen to adopt these approaches because they believe that these approaches are more relevant and more effective toward their respective target customers, and in the end may have a better impact on their respective businesses," said Martin.

But does this 'It's just business' attitude risk alienating the very women it seeks to appeal to?

Jay Milliken, senior partner at Prophet, cautions that sales-oriented promotions are the types of campaigns that come across as least authentic. 

"Authenticity is the key for any brand that wants to associate itself with any holiday or special day of significance, like International Women’s Day," said Milliken. "Brands that have built their positioning (or brand purpose) around attributes related to women’s rights will have an easier time associating themselves to International Women’s Day."

Milliken said Dove is a good example of a brand that has long positioned itself as being supportive of the cause through its True Beauty campaign. Meanwhile, as a listed Workplace Gender Equality Agency Employer of Choice in Australia, the National Australia Bank introduced a social bond to allow institutional investors to invest in supporting Australian organisations that champion women and equality. 

Meanwhile, Regina Tan, director of Flamingo Singapore, said brands need to ask themselves whether their effort is CSR or to serve a social purpose as well as its relationship with women before embarking on any campaign related to events such as International Women's Day. Doing this will ensure the continuity of the brand's campaign the folllowing year, she suggested.

"Lots of brands tend to rely on generic tropes around empowering women to speak up, to pursue their dreams, to do what men can do as well, which may not necessarily have adirect link to what the brand is about," said Tan. "What I think makes for a powerful campaign is when brands show (not just tell) how they benefit women in tangible ways in relation to the business or brand. 

This story was been updated on 9 March to add comments from Flamingo Singapore. 

Campaign Asia-Pacific celebrates International Women’s Day and the call to #BeBoldForChange. In an effort to ignite change and drive gender equality within the industry, on 22 March we are delighted to present Campaign360, an invitation-only, one-day event gathering key decision-makers of leading brands and agencies who believe in the importance of equal opportunity and women leadership.

Following the event programme, the Women Leading Change Awards will celebrate the contributions of female talent to the across the industry. Interested in joining? There are still a few VIP places available for senior brand marketers – apply here


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