Hello Advertisers, It’s 2017

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[1] 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.


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[1] 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,[1]” 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[2]. 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[3].

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[4] 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[1].

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[4]. That number drops to just 12% among women in Asia[1]. 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.

Boy Beauty


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[5]. 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[6]. “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[6].

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[7]. “This is where the market’s development is happening,” stated Euromonitor analyst Tyrimou. “It’s very concentrated in Asia[6].”

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[7]. 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[7].

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.



“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[8],” 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[9]. 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[9].”

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[9].” 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.

tam7In 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[10]. “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[8].

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[11]. 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[12].”


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.


A case against changing tactics for genders. 
A case for changing tactics for genders.


1. https://lbbonline.com/news/jwt-report-on-the-state-of-asian-men/
2. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/mums-at-work-dads-minding-the-kids
3. http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1495347/japan-encourages-fathers-take-more-active-role-child-care
4. http://www.edelman.com/news/the-parenting-group-and-edelman-partner-to-provide-insights-on-the-modern-dad-at-the-first-dad-2-0-summit-82-percent-of-men-who-became-a-parent-in-the-past-to-years-feel-there-is-a-societal-bias-ag-2/
5. https://cassandra.co/life/2017/02/10/boy-beauty
6. https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-asia-mens-skin-care-takes-off-1401320768
7. http://www.campaignasia.com/article/asias-male-grooming-sector-growing-faster-than-entire-beauty-category-kantar/372632
8. http://www.marketing-interactive.com/the-rise-of-the-she-conomy/
9. http://www.campaignasia.com/article/women-and-whisky-diageos-gender-neutral-marketing-formula/383418
10. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703521304576278964279316994
11. https://hbr.org/2009/09/the-female-economy
12. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-end-of-shrink-it-or-pink-it-a-history-of-advertisers-missing-the-mark-with-women/2016/06/08/3bcb1832-28e9-11e6-ae4a-  


It’s not about gender, it’s about human truth

HyoJae An is the Associate Strategy Director for Carat APAC.

Instead of creating messaging on gender, let’s focus on getting to understand the human truth and the “why” of consumer behaviour, and start targeting communicating around on shared interests or qualities that resonates.

5 minute read

As marketers and agencies we are all familiar with consumer marketing terms such as millennials, baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Z… etc. These terms can sometimes be useful when taking in very general terms but it is important to remember that no two millennials nor two women are truly alike.

Mass communication and advertising still stereotype and bucket people into one “type” (think “moms” or “teenagers”) and I find this at best limiting and at worst, dangerous for marketers. Because when we try to fit people into these superficial boxes we make assumptions that can be both wrong and that paint very dull creative pictures which we feed to the world in the form of ad campaigns.

Advertising has and will continue to influence society’s culture and opinions. Young girls and boys who are exposed to advertising will undoubtedly be affected by the messages that they see, in fact it is this early exposure to “gender roles” that go on to impact the imbalance of female representation in industries such as science, engineering and C-level positions. Today’s society is so much more fluid than it used to be and we need to focus on finding the human truth that goes beyond gender, age and social class. Instead of creating messaging on gender we should look to target and create messages based on interests and real human behaviour.

One of the biggest advocates of anti-demographic targeting is Netflix, they find it useless and believe it doesn’t tell the full story, instead they look at actual behaviour and cluster people on taste profile because as they put it.There are actually 19-year-old guys who watch Dance Moms, and there are 73-year-old women who are watching Breaking Bad and Avengers.” They even go as far as to say demographic targeting will damage your brand.

As advertising technology and capabilities advance we look to take more advantage of targeting tools based on interests, activities, location, sentiment and past behaviour. For example, we look to employ people based targeting that doesn’t care for demographics, simply things like patterns of behaviours, video consumption and purchase history across screens. This allows us to still get the mass reach that our clients need while allowing for creation of multiple audience subset audiences within the overall female or male target. This increases relevance and ultimately improves the viewers experience. Facebook call this People-based marketing, in reality it is about using the data available to create scalable and accurate target segments, correctly represented across devices.

These are the tools marketers should be using to help ad resonance and real cut through.

As consumers are increasingly bombarded ads brands can better serve them by spending more time in tailoring the content and the message.

Instead of painting all women and men with the same gender brush let’s focus on getting to understand the human truth and the “why” of consumer behaviour, and start targeting communicating around on shared interests or qualities that resonates.

But… Is there really no human truth in classifying people by gender?

Christine Liu is the Assistant Insights Manager for Carat APAC.

Both gender and behavioural targeting can work, but it’s stereotyping that is the root of the problem.

5 minute read

Behavioural targeting seems to have earned a golden rep of being
the cutting-edge solution that runs closest to the human truth because it’s touted to be more inclusive by eliminating pigeonholing and bias, unlike the evil alternative of demographic (usually gender) targeting which is faulted for being backdated, lacking thought, and too rigidly segmented to entirely understand an audience’s motivations.

1. Gender and behavioural targeting aren’t opposites, they don’t necessarily have to run in silos, and choosing the right targeting approach really depends on the nature of your business.

  • There can be accuracy in targeting primarily by gender, if you know and can prove that people belonging to a certain gender truly do emanate similar characteristics collectively
  • Behavioural targeting involves categorizing people into buckets too, and with categorizing there’s always the danger of over-generalising and failing to see the true picture

2. With either (or any other) targeting solution, blind assumptions and typecasting is the real problem at hand. There is no fixed approach to targeting and no shortcuts in research if you want to really understand how your consumers want to be spoken to.

If you know a product is largely used by a particular gender, and have research that confirms it (e.g. sales figures), it only makes sense to address your audience of that gender primarily, because it is the reality of your business. People belonging to a particular gender can have a propensity to share & champion certain beliefs, and to avoid addressing these gendered perspectives could mean missing out on connecting with your audience on an intimate, emotional level.

The famous Always’ “Like A Girl” campaign exemplifies this. For years, the maker of menstrual pads, avoided any blatant feminine cues for their very female audience, choosing to focus on communicating their brand’s value of ‘confidence’ only in a functional, product-focused manner (“With Always, you can play Twister confidently”). However, over time, their utilitarian approach soon became insufficient to fulfill the emotional engagement that younger females grew to appreciate from brands. Additionally, the functional differentiation between their products and those of competing brands diminished, deeming their product communications ineffective.

always twister

After thorough exploration to uncover what confidence personally meant to young girls, which involved social experiments, discussions with their potential audience, and surveys, they established that girls go through a confidence crisis during puberty. Compared to boys, girls’ self-esteem drops twice as much during puberty according to their study, because the expectation to conform to feminine stereotypes, like physical beauty and submissiveness, begins during this phase of their lives. They are taught that leadership, power and strength are not for them, but more suited to their male counterparts. And that boys should be raised not to be a girl, as if being female is less superior.

always likeagirl

This led Always to create their  “Like A Girl” campaign that challenged and redefined gender stereotypes, both to the benefit of their business, and to society. Before the campaign, the expression ‘like a girl’ was mostly used in a derogatory way. In a post-campaign study, almost 70% of females, and also 60% of males, claimed that the campaign’s video changed their perception of the phrase ‘like a girl’ positively. There was also a higher-than-average lift in brand preference, and claimed purchase intent increased more than 50% among their target, showing that messages tailored for gender can be effective, provided due diligence has been exercised in thoroughly researching the audience to anticipate how the message will be interpreted.

When time and effort isn’t taken to dig deep into the gender-related perspectives and motivations of your audience, and to ensure that these views are representative, gender targeting tends to go awry. Marketers become inclined to complacently rely on what they think they know: Over-generalised gender clichés, whether it’s assuming the gender of their audience or the gender-related values that their target identifies with. This usually results in a patronising message that’s bound to draw negative flak for their brand… and that’s if luck is on their side.

Vera Bradley thought they couldn’t go wrong by backing their It’s Good To Be A Girl campaign with their own consumer research on women. To find out what females think is “good about being a woman in society today,” the brand interviewed 100 women on the street and turned their answers into the copy for their ads. The outcome was a campaign that highlighted handbags, shopping, and being the more deserving gender, as some of the best things about being female. The reaction was overwhelmingly negative—because Vera Bradley’s marketers were blinded by data and stereotypes, and failed to see that the consumers’ responses are ultimately still individual opinions, and to peg these to the whole audience of the campaign by using “we”, a collective term, makes it seem like all women identify with these views, which are also really quite overworked and stale ones in present day.

Behavioural targeting as a primary method might work for products/services that have a psychographic, interest-based appeal. This may be why it works well as Netflix’s main tactic (they do utilise gender & other demographic layers; it’s just low on their hierarchy of data points), as TV content has much more gender-neutral appeal than aftershaves or lipsticks, for example. It’s only natural to de-prioritise gender in this case.

“Real behaviour” is a phrase commonly used to explain the benefits of using interest-based targeting over other strategies, implying that nothing cuts closer to the “human truth”, but let’s not be idealistic about it: At some level, these human behaviours and interests are boxed into categories too. This stage of compartmentalising is essentially the same fork in the road in gender targeting where your strategy could begin to take the wrong turn, because in categorising, there’s always the risk and potential consequences of overlooking the nuances within a sub-group.

In a Guardian journalist’s probe into Spotify’s “taste profiling”, he highlights that gaps exist in the understanding of their audience, even with the years of users’ behavioural data they have. It’s likely due to what their strategists decide on as implications of a certain category (e.g genre, mood, artist):

“Is someone streaming Michael Bublé lots in late December showing a propensity for crooners, or simply exhibiting the Christmas spirit? Is that user heavily playing the Frozen soundtrack a huge Disney fan, or the parent of a huge Disney fan?”

How close can we get to identifying the right context for every consumer each time (or even most times)? One trait could be attributed to a plethora of different reasons and implications when you apply it across a group of individuals, and it’s easy to predict the association incorrectly: just like Spotify serving me localised ads in foreign languages I don’t comprehend when I’m travelling. The reality of the context presents targeting opportunities still, for example to point me to local businesses or activities I would be interested in as a tourist, in a language I understand, and Spotify has overlooked that based on their over-generalised assumptions of my behaviour.  Multiply my experience with that of all the tourists in the world at any given time, and you can imagine the amount of ad wastage an oversight in behavioural targeting can result in.

The effectiveness of using gender and/or behaviour to target your audience, really depends on the audience themselves. If you have a goal of fitting your ad strategy as close to your consumers’ preferences as possible, and on a personal level, it’s unreasonable and insensible to assume a fixed, formulaic approach to reach out to them.

As marketers trying to understand a massive group of consumers as personally as possible, we face constraints such as insufficient time and availability of information, and coping mechanisms such as categorising, labelling and making assumptions are a necessary evil. Where caution can be exercised is not to make blind stereotypes and broad deductions. But this doesn’t come easy: Great business acumen and intuition is developed through a personal motivation to go all out to understand both similarities and nuances of the individuals within their audience, even if it means questioning supposedly-reliable data and research. Tim Donza, Netflix’s ex-consumer insight director, offers similar guidance:

“What we want to do as marketers is connect with people and build brand love. We want to build those deep emotional connections so that our brands become friends and trusted partners, from now going forward. There are many of us… who are seeking that perfect algorithm or that perfect gut, that data that will really tell us what to do. A good and powerful Oz who can make everything we want for our brands.

But if you pull back the curtain there is really just people hard at work… we as marketers have to be disciplined in and avoid the temptation just to rely on data or just rely on gut.”