Tam Le is the Regional Associate Strategy Director for Carat APAC.
As culture continues to evolve in Asia, accelerated by the ubiquity of the Internet and the different global viewpoints that it brings, gender roles will begin to shift and blur and our industry will need to keep up. But what is the best way to do that?
7 minute read
A few years ago I was dating a guy who was a much better knitter than me, in fact, an interest in knitting was one of our common interests and a conversation starter for us. I thought it was great that he was so skilled in an old-fashioned craft, but when I told my Vietnamese parents that he had just helped fix one of my scarves, they were less than pleased. My mom questioned his masculinity. My dad just laughed. They couldn’t understand how a man could be interested in knitting and I couldn’t understand their rigid view on traditional gender roles.
But it seems like I’m not alone on this. The global rise of third-wave feminism and the growing gender equality in education and income is manifesting itself in attitudes in Asia. JWT surveyed over 1,500 men and women in Singapore, China and Malaysia in 2013 and found that eight in 10 agreed that men and women are pretty equal today, and that gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to.
Yet, our briefs remain as stereotypical as ever. Baby formula? Only mums know how to take care of babies. Beer? Only men drink that. This is ridiculous. It’s 2017, and it is time we, as advertisers, caught up or risk alienating a large potential consumer base.
MEN MATTER TOO
And speaking of the rise in third-wave feminism, the effects of which have trickled down into marketing all over the world (as seen here, here, here, here, and here), it’s easy to forget that men have difficulties and face biases as well. In the same JWT survey of Asian consumers, eight in 10 also believe that while people talk about the difficulties women face, things are just as hard for men. On top of that, men are more likely than women to say that life in general is harder compared the generation before because, similar to women, their spheres of influence are growing, shrinking, and generally shifting in new, uncharted directions that most brands have yet to catch up with.
Daddy Day Care
“This trope is repeated everywhere in popular culture, from adverts portraying fathers as feckless incompetents who can’t even take care of a KFC bucket to cartoons where the butt of every joke is the idiot dad: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and, most egregious of all, Daddy Pig in Peppa Pig,” rants Andrew Watts in his appropriately titled “Stop telling men they’re useless at childcare, and maybe they’ll be better” feature in The Spectator.
Today men in Singapore, Malaysia, and China are almost equally likely to state “emotional support for their family” as a primary definer of manliness as they were to name “career success.”
Today men in Singapore, Malaysia, and China are almost equally likely to state “emotional support for their family” as a primary definer of manliness as they were to name “career success,” and in 2014, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower reported that 10,200 male Singaporeans and permanent residents cited “family responsibilities” (e.g. childcare, housework, etc.) as their main reason for not working, more than triple the number in 2006. The movement towards gender equality is evident and even in countries with great disparity, like Japan where just a meagre 2% of Japanese men took paternity leave in 2012, strides are being made by the government to normalize greater male involvement in family life. The Japanese government currently grants male employees with young children up to one year of childcare leave with the goal of raising the percentage of men who take paternity leave from 2% to 13% by 2020.
Perhaps as time goes on, and these government initiatives and evolving mind sets take a greater hold, marketers will realize that both men and women share the responsibility of making major childcare decisions, on matters such as education, activities, and diet. Maybe then, grievances like those of Andrew Watts, will be a thing of the past: “I just find it odd that women, who would be appalled by anyone suggesting that a woman’s place is in the home, can promulgate the idea that men are, by their nature, hopeless parents—even though that’s saying the same thing in different words.”
A Man’s Place is in the Kitchen… and the Laundry Room
In addition to childcare, men around the world are taking a more active role in household chores. According to our own Consumer Connections Study (CCS) data for Thailand, 92% of men reported purchasing household items within the past 12 months versus only 74% of women. In a different study, The Parenting Group, which publishes Parenting magazine, among others, teamed with Edelman in 2012 to conduct two surveys of American fathers; they found that about 70% of dads report they buy the groceries, cook, and clean. This is not limited to just Western markets: 40% of Asian men also say they are the primary grocery shopper.
However, it would be irresponsible to not state what the women reported in the very same surveys. Although 70% of American dads said they did the grocery shopping, only 36% of American moms agreed. That number drops to just 12% among women in Asia. Given this, it’s easy to dismiss the role of men in grocery shopping.
However, seeing how so few food and cleaning brands currently speak to fathers in Asia, the ones who successfully do will stand out and win over this growing demographic, and perhaps a few approving mothers as well.
This past year saw many large multinational beauty brands embracing male spokespeople. CoverGirl named makeup artist and high school senior James Charles as its beauty ambassador; Maybelline appointed Manny Gutierrez (@mannymua733) as theirs, and Rimmel followed with 17-year old beauty vlogger Lewys Ball. With these bold strokes, the cosmetics industry has rung the death toll on traditional, narrowly-defined gender norms.
For those of you who think the actions of these Western brands don’t apply to Asia, think again. In fact, the rise of male grooming applies more to APAC than any other region of the world. Asia holds the largest men’s skincare market, accounting for 2.1 billion dollars, or 64% of the global spend on male skin creams, lotions and whiteners, according to Euromonitor’s April 2013 data. China is the largest men’s skincare market, accounting for nearly 30% of global spend, while South Korea holds second place with almost 20% of the global share. “There is a wider idea of skincare being effeminate in many countries, but in Korea, this doesn’t seem to be the case,” noticed Simon Duffy, co-founder of the United Kingdom male skincare brand Bulldog. “If your mother has a nine-step skin routine, which happens a lot in Korea, you’re going to do five,” said Euromonitor beauty analyst Nicole Tyrimou.
Asia holds the largest men’s skincare market, accounting for 2.1 billion dollars, or 64% of the global spend on male skin creams, lotions and whiteners.
But this trend doesn’t stop with China and South Korea: thanks to Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan, sales of male grooming products are growing faster than the entire beauty product category (9% versus 5%, respectively), according to 2013 research from Kantar Worldpanel. “This is where the market’s development is happening,” stated Euromonitor analyst Tyrimou. “It’s very concentrated in Asia.”
However, what motivates the well-groomed men of the East varies from culture to culture. The same Kantar Worldpanel found that in the South-eastern countries of the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, consumers felt that career success involves looking the part. Whereas in China, most men just wanted to win over the ladies. It’s important to understand these different motivations in order to land the right communication message for each market. Doing so could help brands win over the huge remainder of the male beauty market that remains untapped, which Kantar estimates at US$6 billion.
Just as the traditional role of women have made dramatic shifts in Asia, so too have the traditional roles and self-perceptions of men who now see themselves as active participants in the household and in their own skincare routine.
HONEY, YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY… BUT YOU STILL HAVE A LONGER WAY TO GO
“Women are not a special-interest group. They are over half the population.”
Many articles have covered the rise of women’s spending power, or the female economy, or sometimes called—and I shudder to write this—the sheconomy. Yet, despite this rise in power, and one would assume that with it comes respect, marketing executives, such as Simois Ng head of marketing communications at Sony, are still quoted saying, “some people might assume that women prefer to take selfies but actually, they can shoot professional photographs too,” and believing that they are actually giving credit where credit is due.
Too many brands still believe that “shrink it and pink it” is still a valid approach when appealing to women. Hopefully these next couple of examples will prove there are some more nuanced ways to approach it.
Whisky and Women
Skinnygirl Margarita, Little Black Dress Vodka, Chick Beer: all of these (real) brands make me want to barf…and it’s not from excessive drinking. It’s because they try to pander to their target market in such an obvious way that it becomes desperate and sad—in the words of one of my favourite brand strategists, “hey, your strategy is showing.”
Fortunately, not all brands have such an outdated, stereotypical view of female drinking habits. “Diageo has a comprehensive marketing guide that regulates how we present our products to everyone, whether male or female. We always show respect for consumers and work within the industry to encourage similar behaviour. In terms of best practice, we feel it’s important to never underestimate or patronise women,” states Mark Sandys, category director for whisky and reserve at Diageo. This is especially valuable in Asia where women are increasingly becoming more empowered and going out, especially in mixed-gender groups, is becoming more common. Diageo has observed that “In China for instance, women account for a quarter of all whisky consumption. In India, the number of women enjoying whisky has gone up by nearly 30% versus last year, and our team on the ground is telling us that female participation at whisky tastings has increased by around a third on last year. A new generation of young, professional female whisky drinkers are introducing their friends, colleagues and clients to the spirit.”
In China for instance, women account for a quarter of all whisky consumption. In India, the number of women enjoying whisky has gone up by nearly 30% versus last year.
In order to win over this valuable and discerning segments, there are two approaches: a gender neutral one, and a purposefully gendered one, but done from a place of understanding. For the first route, to quote Sandys from Diageo again, “Fundamentally we believe that ‘[gender] bilingual’ marketing makes for better marketing. One of the key ways of doing this is by raising our standards of design. New launches such as John Walker & Sons Odyssey or Johnnie Walker Platinum have stunning, aesthetically beautiful pack designs that we know appeal to both men and women.” On the other end of the spectrum, you have brands like White Girl Rosé, Veuve Clicquot, and Moet & Chandon which explicitly appeal to women, yet they do it from a place that, in the case of White Girl Rosé, makes us feel like we’re in on the joke, even though it was created by male comedian The Fat Jew. Similar to John Walker & Sons Odyssey or Johnnie Walker Platinum, the design is sleeker and devoid of gimmicky images of high heels and pearls. Thought and tact (except in the case of White Girl Rosé) will go a long way.
Get in, Loser. We’re Going Shopping.
You’d think with the way every car commercial ever is narrated by a man with a deep voice that women don’t buy cars when according to CCS, the percentage of women who have discussed or bought an automotive is neck-and-neck with the percentage of men in APAC markets like India and Hong Kong, and actually greater than in Malaysia.
In fact, auto analysts CNW Marketing Research and J.D. Power and Associates say that about 40% of spending on new cars last year was done by women. “The automobile is a product reflecting the personal lifestyle and taste of both men and women today. Women are also the key decision makers in family matters including the purchase of big-ticket items like cars and may affect men’s choice of car models,” says Reinhold Carl, managing director of Audi Hong Kong.
In order to communicate with women in a way that appeals to them, Audi utilizes fashion platforms such as The Hong Kong Fashion Extravaganza to build word-of-mouth. It is also important to communicate the features that matter to the people who will be actually using them instead of falling back on the same tired tropes—such as speed and horsepower—when many women are actually looking for utility. So instead of showing a car zipping through the curves of the countryside or a mountain, maybe show how a certain SUV is built to accommodate a mother who needs to load two small children into it.
As women’s salaries begin to climb, and therefore their decision-making influence and purchasing power along with it, marketers will need to begin to focus more on them and their needs. Because as Jim Winters, president of branding agency Badger & Winters, put it so elegantly, “Women are not a special-interest group. They are over half the population.”
SO NOW WHAT DO WE DO?
As culture continues to evolve in Asia, accelerated by the ubiquity of the Internet and the different global viewpoints that it brings, gender roles will begin to shift and blur (men will knit; women will drink whisky) and our industry will need to keep up. But what is the best way to do that? Do we change tactics, adopting a unique one for each gender, or do we ignore it as a part of the demographic profile all together? It might be confusing because my article presented both ways, each one working for different brands. And that’s because there are arguments to be made for each tactic, which we want to flesh out with these next two Rocket articles, each one written by a different member of Carat APAC.