GIRL POWER. It is the battle cry heard around the world, peaking in recent years through the exposure of various movements through the media. Now, more than ever, women are starting (and ending) conversations about access to education, sexism and gender bias, women's health and rights, gender-based violence and more are taking centre stage at home, schools, offices and in the market place.
But what about in Asia?
Consider SK-II's 2016 #ChangeDestiny campaign in China which focused on the stigma of unmarried females over the age of 25 and urged them to not give into the pressures of society. In 2017, Benetton's "United by Half" campaign in India supported the cause by reminding society that women have been denied their half for too long and it is time for equality. Last year, Dove extended it's "Real Beauty" ad to Japan through a social experiment in a high school which aimed to empower and reinforce self-worth in young women.
Women in Asia have emerged as an important and valuable consumer segment for retailers with numerous market research studies done to shed light on how brands can best appeal to them. Their spending power is increasing rapidly - a McKinsey reports says that women contribute 41% to the China's total GDP. In a separate study done by BCG, women in Thailand have one of the highest employment rates (64%) of women in any global economy, including those in Asia, North America, and Western Europe.
Asian women also have a fine tuned radar for quality, value and most importantly, for lip service - and they are having none of the token 'femvertising' that many brands fall prey to. A study by The Economist (commissioned by e-commerce powerhouse VIP.com) analysed that "getting the message right" is key to be marketing successfully to Asian women. As we know, the definition of "right messaging" in marketing differs depending on various elements, but authentically communicating self-reliance and personal autonomy are always received positively.
With their discerning eye and increasing financial capabilities, Asian women are proving to have enormous cultural influence when it comes to pop culture, politics, business, education and social change - particularly for the cause in which they are the protagonists. As women all over the world light the way to frame women's empowerment as an established and prevailing social norm, it is no exception in Asia. And as with every push for change, community allies are essential - especially in media and brands.
Brands that employ messages about women's empowerment (and other social change thrusts) have the potential to kickstart cultural debates that can swiftly amplify a brand's visibility and bring the unique potential to monetise an audience's attention. SK-II reported a 50% spike in sales growth in China from their 2016 campaign alone. They have gone on to produce three more videos that mine similar story themes. Their recent February release has already garnered 16 million views along with a lively discussion on mainstream Chinese social media platforms Weibo and Wechat. The desire for a shift in gender-politics in the region exists and it is growing. That said, deep seated cultural traditions and subsequent backlash can still make brands wary to participate in the conversation, given the complexities of the movement within an Asian point of view.
But rather than shy away from it all, perhaps this new climate comes as a great reminder of the power of our industry to deliver support for challenging issues and to be a domain that fosters change for good. Sure, true collective social change goes beyond any one industry, but the responsibility of diversity, inclusivity and equality rests on everyone.
Taking a stance and weaving in messages that uplift women pushes forward the awareness of the female Asian perspective in narratives that are usually overtaken by a singular voice (feminism needs global voices!). As is with society, markets are rarely stagnant and monolithic. The nuances developed through changing social times does the important work of giving brands and the marketing industry every opportunity to carry true relevance and humanity into what we do - in this case, through girl power.