International Women’s Day on March 8 has increasingly become a marketing gimmick and an opportunity for companies to promote products for women in China. And it’s important to understand this aspect of Chinese consumer behavior and get these marketing campaigns right. If they make a mess of it, that’s a big opportunity missed.
What International Women’s Day looks like in China
Several countries go all out celebrating Women’s Day. China is one of those countries. Female employees get a half-day holiday and people buy presents for the women in their life and women buy things to reward themselves as well. China’s retail sector has embraced it and different retailers have branded it “Queen’s Day”, “Lady’s Day” or make references to pampering goddesses.
Why do you need to understand China’s ‘She-conomy’?
China’s She-conomy is getting larger, estimated at 10 trillion RMB in 2020. It represents a new trend in Chinese consumer behavior and includes entertainment, parenting products and services, sports, health products and more. Compared to the 1980s and 1990s, young women with higher educational backgrounds and incomes of 20K or higher are more common now.
According to data from MobTech, the proportion of women with a Master’s degree or higher in some age groups rose from 1.6% to 7.6%, while for men, the rate increased from 2.2% to 5.7%. The proportion of women with an income of 20K or higher and the income gap between men and women is narrowing. The average monthly shopping frequency of women is 7.2 times, which is much higher than that of men’s 5.5 times. 6% of women shop every day. Women as a consumer group are becoming more and more important.
Who has done Women’s Day marketing right?
Underwear brand Neiwai scored big with this WeChat post on February 24th, 2020 getting 1,469 Wows and 82,400 page views. In the same vein as Dove soap and Fenty Beauty before them, they invited 6 women of different ages and body types to participate in a “No Body is Nobody” video shoot, that encouraged women to get rid of labels, and be proud of their bodies, just as they are.
Compared to the previous post on February 18th, the page views increased 575% and Wows increased by 620%. They got everyone’s attention, increased brand awareness and made their brand values clear.
Olay launched two ads entitled “你今年多大了?” (How old are you?) for International Women’s Day in 2019. The ads, showcasing women in different fields, showed their different skills and experiences and, instead of focussing on the numbers related to their age, each woman defined numbers in their own way relating to their skills and interests. They successfully conveyed the idea of defining themselves by their achievements rather than their age. It got 28 million views in two days.
Who has done Women’s Day marketing wrong?
Unfortunately for Chanel, 辛芷蕾 (Zhilei Xin), one of their brand ambassadors, published a Weibo post in March 2020 that said “不用香水的女人没有未来” (A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.) The post got a lot of attention. The wrong kind.
People were angry and didn’t like the hopeless mood and demeaning tone of the statement.
However, the words weren’t hers. They were from Coco Chanel. Words that may have been aspirational in the 1920s don’t necessarily apply to Chinese consumer behavior in the 2020s when a woman’s future is based much more on her education, skills, personality and interests. This quote failed the test.
On February 24th, 2021, 李诞（Dan Li), a social influencer on Weibo, published a post for Ubras underwear brand. He said he’d be selling the items in an e-commerce livestream and defined the bras as “workplace life jackets” that could help women “lie down to win in the workplace.”
This was a worst case scenario that caused quite a backlash online. People were also angry that Ubras was paying a man for his endorsement, an insulting one. Ubras said it had only intended to convey that their bras were so comfortable that they could help women face tiredness all day long at work. Li apologized on his Weibo account taking the blame and saying, “It’s my fault. I will reflect on myself, thanks for all your criticism,” But people weren’t buying it. Literally.
Chinese women’s new attitudes
Women in China are tired of old tropes and clichés. They’re eager to have their accomplishments recognized and are more open than ever to new and diversified beauty ideals. Women still value attractiveness but don’t want this to be the only factor they are judged by and want ideas about female attractiveness to be more inclusive.
These inclusive concepts of aesthetics include women of various ages, sizes, skin tones, from different backgrounds and regions, married or single, with or without children. They’re keen to expand their boundaries and life paths beyond the traditional and the expected.
And, as evidenced by recent issues on university campuses, that were aired on Douban and Weibo, some young women are turning against the very idea of Women’s Day (and Girl’s Day on March 7th) itself because they’re wary of commercialism and extremely tired of the day being used as an excuse by some to make denigrating public statements about women.
Important things for brands in China to keep in mind.
What are the takeaway lessons for brands?
- Make sure your brand ambassadors have no history of denigrating statements and stereotypes related to women and make sure there are no such statements in your campaigns.
- Match your marketing efforts to the current attitudes of women in China. In ads, visuals and videos, feature women of different ages at different stages of life, women of different sizes, women from different parts of the country and from different backgrounds.
- Make sure your product’s colour palettes, sizes and other key features match brand images and messaging.
- Emphasize strong, positive, familial relationships among women – mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, sisters, classmates, colleagues and good friends.
- Focus on the kinds of needs and demands women prize. Focus on achievement, education, skills, health and fitness or any other area that matches your brand’s values, symbols, brand story or image.
Traditional ads for women are often based on outdated ideas. Brands that stick to this narrow script are bound to fail at a time when women in China are exploring broader ideas of beauty, value and meaning in their lives. Brands need to explore themes relevant to this new generation: internal and external beauty, quality of life, the desire for social recognition and the desire for self-realization.
This requires elevating the brand personality and value proposition to higher levels beyond functional demand.
Content featuring the real people who use the products is also a powerful tool to connect with consumers, bringing the audience into the scene and making them feel like they’re in the ad. This will spark positive word of mouth and even greater reach for the campaign on platforms like WeChat, Weibo, Douban, Xiaohongshu / Red and other key social media sites in China.
Do you need advice on your next holiday campaign in China? Do you want to get a better understanding of Chinese consumer behavior? Contact ChoZan and Alarice for your China marketing research and strategy, or for custom corporate training for your internal marketing teams.