Global Brands Failed on International Women’s Day in Asia

International Women’s Day came and went with global fanfare. Many companies used the occasion to acknowledge female leaders or host events that celebrated achievements by women, and some created brand campaigns that specifically promoted the important role that women play in society. Unfortunately, many of these brands missed an opportunity in Asia.

In the U.S., Under Armour (whose brand strategy traditionally focuses on empowering women) put out a new campaign called “You’re more than a pretty face.” The brand promoted the new campaign on its website and numerous social media channels.  Microsoft launched its #MakeWhatsNext campaign, celebrating women inventors, how they have changed the world and how they are inspiring the next generation.

In Europe, UBS launched an ad that speaks to the challenges women face working in male dominated industries like financial services. And in the Middle East, Turkey and Russia, Nike Women put out new films that challenge gender stereotypes and encourage women to become more active members of society, despite the barriers to doing so.

But here in Asia, most of the messaging around International Women’s Day focused on shopping, retail therapy and getting a good deal. For example:

  • Under Armour’s Hong Kong website offered special promotions on women’s merchandise.
  • Lancôme offered deals on makeup.
  • Gucci offered one-day sales in China.
  • Even Burger King tried to get into the action with its “Burger Queen,” branded takeaway boxes which included a mirror and a crown with the message: ‘Every one of you is our Burger Queen.’

At the end of the day international brands, particularly those who traditionally support gender equality and the role of women in society, simply didn’t in Asia. I’m not suggesting every brand should have jumped on the International Women’s Day bandwagon – authenticity is a huge part of what makes a brand successful. But in Hong Kong, a brand like Under Armour could have done more. Instead, they turned a day about the empowerment of women and gender equality into a day that preserved stereotypes like a women’s need for “retail therapy.” Hardly an appropriate way to celebrate a woman’s role in Asian society.

Today in Asia, more women hold leadership roles within companies than ever before. More women are joining the workforce. Enrollment of women at universities in China has never been higher, and more women are seeking advanced degrees. While many women still face criticism and ridicule in Asian societies for stepping outside of their traditional gender roles, brands, particularly those who promote women in other parts of the world, have a responsibility not to perpetuate these challenges.

The role of women in Asian society is changing. It may be slow but it is changing. Isn’t it time global brands caught up?

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