Staff Reporters
Mar 8, 2021

What brands should and should not do on International Women’s Day

Campaign asked industry professionals to weigh-in on the best ways for brands to mark International Women's Day.

What brands should and should not do on International Women’s Day

Over the years, we've seen brands celebrate International Women's Day in a variety of ways and this year is no exception.  From women's day discounts to inspirational films, from celebrating exceptional female talent to launching new initiatives or donating to charities, there are plenty of ways that brands have chosen to get involved.

Some efforts and messages have been, and will continue to be, better received better than others. So we posed the question below to professionals in our brand communication industry, and have republished their advice.

How can brands best recognise International Women’s Day. What should or shouldn’t they do?

Merlee Jayme, global co-president, Dentsumcgarrybowen

Don’t launch a campaign celebrating women, when you’ve made no commitment to better women in your own organisation. It’s disingenuous, especially when you can be caught out in a 140-character whistle blow. Make long-term, achievable and sustainable commitments while being transparent about your own situation and how you’re going to move the dial yourself. Add to the conversation, not the noise. Authentic baby-steps are better than big unachievable goals.

Karen Ho, CEO, Initiative China

International Women’s Day in China has another name – 'Festival of the Goddess', and it has become one of the top gifting festivals along the year aka top e-commerce sales promotion day. This is so wrong. Brands should celebrate women’s achievements, and celebrate with people stories, not promotions. Call out the real stories among these amazing women in your organizations for their amazing work every day!  Resonate with how your brand has been helping women achieve their very best too. It does not limit to women-centric brands either, who says a car brand or alcohol brand should not promote and empower women’s accomplishments in the 21st century?!!

Yukiko Ochiai, president & CEO, Grey Tokyo

Japan ranked 121st out of 153 countries in its most recent Gender Equality Survey according to the World Economic Forum. Japan has neglected the problem of gender disparity for the longest time. Our country is still at the primary stage of the transformation where many still do not understand the real issue.

If brands are going to participate in the International Women’s Day, rather than a general/broad communication about gender equality in total, I wish for a campaign that is deeply personal and focuses on very specific issues caused by this disparity. Some great campaigns that come to my mind (unfortunately not Japanese) are SKII's Marriage Market Takeover and Always' Like A Girl. These campaigns open your eyes to the actual issues caused by disparity, and it stirs a desire to change your behaviour because of the emotion it creates. 

Penny Chow, managing director, Reprise Hong Kong

Many brands are running impactful campaigns on International Women’s Day to share their values and induce empathy. From my POV, the thinking should be rooted deep inside the intention of the initiatives. Certainly brands would use females as the main talent in front of the camera, but what if we would do the same behind the scenes? Having a female director, female editor, female photographer for example, to create campaigns that are genuinely supporting the female community. Production in particular is a sector I still see being very male dominated, and this is one of the areas that our industry should help diversify to achieve a more balanced and equitable working environment for all.

Uma Anand, unit managing director, UM Japan

Today’s savvy consumers can see through brands that pay lip service to Women’s Day with promotions and creative. Ideally, brands should shift their focus to creating product extensions or in-category educational content that is more meaningful to women. To make a true impact, brands need to internalize an equal culture and actively showcase how many women they employ, how many of them are in key leadership/decision making positions and how that has positively impacted their businesses in the long run.

An example is how Shiseido strives to address gender issues in Japan. The brand actively promotes initiatives internally and externally like the 30% Club Japan and the Gender Equality Awareness Program (co-hosted by UN Women  and concluded in March 2020); with the goal to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality toward a society where all people can play active roles, regardless of gender.

Jax Jung, Global Creative Director, Cheil Worldwide

DO: Understand the basics of why we are celebrating International Women’s Day in the first place. It’s a celebration of women today and their accomplishments, but still having to fight the hurdles of unequal rights and opportunities, and pay parity. Align brands with the causes such as gender equality, and offer the support backed up by belief that the brand stick close to women (not only on International Women’s Day, but) every day. One-off communications made to celebrate this specific day feel like a PR stunt and a sign of FOMO for brands. Bring an awareness, exercise and celebrate movements that promise to deliver a more fair and equal future ‘everyday,’ not only on International Women’s Day. Brands supporting, encouraging and inspiring women to stand up, keeping strong through the hurdles they face is how brands can best recognize International Women’s Day. 

DON’T: A sudden and one-day messaging or communication that glorify or compliment, or “I feel you” campaign. Just because it’s International Women’s Day, should feel no different from the day before or the day after. Campaigns that changes logos for the day, changes packages for the day doesn’t get to the core of the movement, and it can be seen as insensible and lazy. 

Unmisha Bhatt, chief strategy officer and director, India & MENA, Tonic Worldwide

Brands can best contribute to an equal world by enabling the ethos of equality across the ecosystem and organization. Supporting equality isn't something that should be looked at with the lens of a day but a consistent permanent initiative. A philosophy that as marketers we should implement by adopting it in the workplace as well as consumer communication alike.

More importantly, Women's day is more about changing the traditional mindset which leads to women being treated poorly in certain parts of the world. Brands have been typically conservative in speaking out against societal issues like rape and dowry and have traditionally shied away from courting controversies. However, being bold and speaking out is the need of the hour to bring about the difference needed.

T. Gangadhar, APAC CEO, Essence

On this significant day, brands have the opportunity to leverage the reach and scale of their marketing activities to address issues faced by women, challenge bias, and go above and beyond celebrating women. It is key that activities acknowledge and not obscure the true meaning of International Women’s Day, roots of which are in advancing women’s rights and eliminating systemic inequality. Advertisers need to stop seeing this as a one-day tentpole opportunity and should ensure that their marketing activities are sustained over time by committing to fair representation in their marketing externally, and with equitable policies in place internally - it does not have to take a specific day to do right by women.

Vaishali Sarkar, CEO, Wunderman Thompson Indonesia 

International Women’s day is a recognition of equality for women. It is not about placing women on pedestals and celebrating their achievements. It’s about recognising that when women enter a playing ground, the rules of the game are the same for everyone. They are neither lesser than, nor more than. They are simply ‘as much as’ anyone else.

Brands and agencies have the responsibility  to ensure fair play and fair opportunity. And use the word fair in the fairest way!

Evelyn Tay, vice president of communications and public affairs, Foodpanda APAC

International Women’s Day is more than just a day to celebrate the achievements of women, or a marketing opportunity for brands.

I believe real impact comes from creating opportunities that uplift women in our communities, and we’ve done just that at foodpanda - our technology and platform create thousands of earning and business opportunities, through our rider programme and home chefs initiative for example. This is why we are proud of building a platform that makes a true economic difference to women in communities where we operate.

Allison Coley, chief client officer, Wavemaker Asia-Pacific

A brand’s participation in IWD or other diversity & inclusion efforts should be focused on celebrating the actions that a particular organization is taking to bring equality to all – this is not about selling new or more products or building brand equity.  I really enjoy seeing brands taking this moment to announce firm and tangible commitments and initiatives that they believe will make a difference in today’s world. 

There are two things I expect brands to demonstrate on this day: 1)  a commitment to developing tomorrow’s female movers & shakers 2) events that attract men & woman alike.  We can’t drive change if we are only talking to half of the population.

Maggie Cheung, group business director, DDB Group Hong Kong

All companies should be consistently working to support and champion ALL staff, so I personally don't think it needs a huge celebration internally. From a brand communications perspective, it really comes down to knowing who you are as a brand and acting authentically. Recognise if it’s an opportunity to connect with your customers, and if so, how best to. Like anything in your marketing calendar, it should be justified and strategic. If it isn’t, it’s unlikely to be meaningful, or worse, it could tarnish your brand’s credibility.

Sunshine Farzan, group head of marketing & communications, Tricor Group

If there ever was a time to “walk the talk” and take meaningful steps toward gender equality, now is it. With the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day being #ChooseToChallenge, brands must show up with more than just a one-off marketing campaign and match their words with sustained actions that have long-lasting impact. The path to gender parity starts internally. Formalize strategies in recruitment, retention and compensation and then pledge to monitor with transparent reporting, demonstrating tangible progress towards equalizing gender across all levels – from fresh university graduates to corporate board directors. 

Eileen Ooi, chief operating officer, OMG Malaysia

Brands play a crucial role in shaping conversations and perceptions through marketing and communications. In this day and age, I believe that brands should leveraging their strength and credentials to make a stand in the communities through brand actions and communication. Additionally, organizations should take up the D&I agenda seriously, driving equality in opportunities and consciously promoting women into leadership roles. Give women a voice and empower them. Then let the magic happen!

Rahul Mathew, chief creative officer, DDB Mudra Group


The question really should be how brands can best recognise women. And it starts from within an organisation - how women are represented and portrayed in every piece of work and every conversation. That way IWD will come across as a day to celebrate what the brand believes and lives, rather than just a day that the brand is trying to ride on.

Lani Jamieson, head of Matterkind Singapore and Malaysia

Nowadays female diversity and inclusion practices are embedded within many companies and form an important part of their company culture, hiring process, go to market strategies and even brand identity. On the flip side, consumers expectations and vocalization of their personal beliefs are stronger than ever, and brand loyalty can be influenced by brands that promote similar values to their consumers. There is no right or wrong way for a brand to support International Women’s Day. Credibility can be gained for brands that 'walk the talk' so it’s more important to have a longer term strategy that communicates these values and beliefs with supporting initiatives across the year, rather than make a standalone statement as a one off for International Women’s day.

Dawn Yang, associate creative director, Tribal Singapore

Brands are eager to jump on trending topics, and creative agencies sometimes fuel that with lip service – which is not the best thing to do for important occasions as such. In dedicating 2021 to a year of celebrating Singaporean women for the Ministry of Social and Family, our goal is to seed mindset shift towards a culture of respect for all women. And we see change as coming from within. If the brand walks the talk, then it must celebrate with authenticity and inspire other organisations to follow.

Rajni Daswani, director of digital marketing, SoCheers

It’s really very simple – connect with your customer by being real. Adding fluff and stereotypical things don’t help. Your ads/promotional material are not just talking to the real women today, but also forming the thinking of our future generations. It’s important to show them a realistic picture of how women are evolving, growing and securing their future. It’s important for that little girl or boy to understand that roles can be gender agnostic and everyone can do & be who they want to be.

Lishan Lim, client partner UM Singapore

To truly celebrate women, it goes beyond the current initiatives which crowd the current space. Brands need to give women what matters most, empathy, respect and to speak with authenticity. To achieve that takes effort and it goes beyond an exercise done once a year. And yes, recognise that not all women are alike, our needs and wants differ across life-stages and cultures. So stop all the stereotypes.

Brands do not need to celebrate women just once a year. If you want to create impact, ditch the cliched gestures and focus on what creates impact behind purpose for the long term.

Campaign Asia

Related Articles

Just Published

3 hours ago

Cannes Contenders: Wolf BKK predicts which ...

Wolf BKK's Torsak Chuenprapar handpicks the campaigns that could win a Lion next week at Cannes.

3 hours ago

Grey changes Asia Pacific leadership, appoints ...

EXCLUSIVE: After 33 years with Grey, global COO and international president Nirvik Singh is leaving the business. Grey also has appointed Masahiko Okazaki as its new CEO in Japan, replacing Yukiko Ochiai.

3 hours ago

Apple is the world's first $1 trillion brand: Kantar

Apple has secured the most valuable spot for the third year running. NVIDIA, meanwhile, has ridden the AI wave to leap into the top 10, enjoying a 178% brand value increase.

5 hours ago

Agency Report Card 2023: Publicis Creative

Bold leadership decisions that drive change as well as sound creative and business judgment continue to pay dividends for Publicis across APAC.