Mark Tanner
Mark Tanner
3 March 2021 0 Comments

Last time we looked, the end users in the bra category were almost always female. That’s why we were scratching our head, like many others, when we saw last week’s promotion from Chinese bra brand Ubras with the famous comedian Li Dan, a male.

Li called the Ubras “lifesaving garments” for women in the workplace. “This product allows working women to effortlessly have it all by just lying down,” said Li, implying that women rely on their sex appeal to boost their careers. It turned out that the offensive messaging wasn’t Li’s but rather part of a broader campaign orchestrated by Ubras, which has a track record of playing on women’s insecurities and using lowbrow taglines to get attention.

Although Ubras has only been around since 2016, pushing the limits appears to have worked for them to stand out in a crowded market. By last year it had already become the top-selling underwear brand on Tmall. But there is a fine line between being edgy and objectifying your target market.

The promotion follows a series of similarly sexist campaigns, curiously trying to appeal to the lucrative female target market. Just in January, Chinese makeup remover brand PurCotton’s ad showed a women using a cleansing towelette to remove her makeup and scare off a stalker with her bare face. Late last month, bubble tea brand Sexy Tea, was forced to apologise after its packaging promoted itself as an economical way to lure girls. It hasn’t just been local brands making gaffs with their ads in China, in 2017 an ad by Audi backfired after depicting women as livestock.

Fast-growing video platform Bilibili, has had a transformative few years, doubling its paid subscribers in 2020. In 2013, Bilibili was known as a hub for young ACG (Anime, Comic and Games) fans. Just 25% of users were women. The platform has since targeted a wider group and now counts 43% of users as female. Yet there are numerous reports of the platform becoming visibly more conservative, sexist and nationalistic, fuelled by the recent promotion of the objectionable anime series “Jobless Reincarnation.” This has caused tens of thousands of feminists to successfully pressure advertisers to end partnerships with the platform, as well as flooding social media to encourage a mass boycott of Bilibili.

Although China is still some way off using pronouns in email signatures, consumers are increasingly expecting and standing up for a more inclusive society. Like many trends that accelerated as a result of Covid, hundreds of thousands protested online against sexist treatment of female health workers during the height of the pandemic in China.

Females in China have long been confident and fiercely independent. Back when Chinese could travel abroad, females accounted for 58% of independent travellers, symbolizing their self assurance and adventurousness. More and more, that assertiveness is translating to a lack of tolerance for brands who are stuck in a sexist, old-fashioned mindset. There is a tug of war between societal expectations for traditional gender stereotypes, trying to pull against an open-minded generation (both females and males) who are increasingly pushing back, supported and amplified by their tribes on social media.

Companies developing branding and messaging would be wise to understand and speak to the less traditional stances that are sweeping the consumer classes. Brands can still be edgy and stand out, without being objectionable. Contact China Skinny to discuss how we can assist. In the meantime, don’t forget International Women’s Day this Monday!

Click/tap here to see this week’s most important China market and marketing news.