It's International Women's Day (IWD) and we have seen an influx of brands across the globe trying to embrace equity and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women with their ad campaigns. For example, Watsons earlier unveiled its “DARE TO BE” campaign to further its commitment to transcending stereotypes and standing with women to discover the best version of themselves. Meanwhile, Häagen-Dazs is also honouring its female co-founder Rose Mattus, through a global campaign titled “The Rose Project” where it created a US$100k bursary to shine a light on Mattus' unsung contribution to the brand and aims to honour women who don’t hold back. The global initiative also hopes to bring attention to issues such as gender equality and sexism within different societies.
While globally there have been advancements in women's representation in advertising, in Hong Kong, we still have some ways to go, say industry professionals MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to.
In fact, the way females are represented in ads seems to be a concern in Hong Kong. According to an extracted data from YouGov, more than half of women in Hong Kong (52%) agree that their lifestyles were not represented enough in advertising. This compares to 45% of men who said the same. Additionally, 33% of women in Hong Kong agree that advertising affects how they perceive their body image. In contrast, only a quarter (24%) disagreed with it. Young women between 25 and 34 years were most likely to agree with this statement (43%).
Meanwhile, working women (35%) are significantly more likely than their non-working counterparts (29%) to agree with the statement, “I wish I could see more advertisements with families like mine”, according to the data. Given that the portrayal of women in ads still remains a concern, let's take a look at what some of the female adland creatives MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out to think about what can be made better in Hong Kong's adland.
Christine Lai (pictured left) and Christel Chong (pictured right), group creative director and creative director, DDB Hong Kong
Lai: There can be more campaigns featuring female figures or endorsers as a way to demonstrate a change of status quo. Today, women can be extremely independent and versatile, breaking assumptions females are too emotionally driven as well as unable to strike a balance between family and work. Meanwhile, society is more accepting of women prioritising career progression. Advertising needs to be sure to keep up with these realities.
Chong: Women being portrayed as flawless in appearance and in typical picture-perfect scenarios is one thing that I hope we can slowly reduce. Showcasing more raw, real-life portrayals, imperfect appearances in ads could be the first step in changing this.
Ching Yuen, senior copywriter, Dentsu Creative
It’s 2023 but for some reason we’re still cooking in the kitchen, we’re still the ones fussing over cleanliness, and we’re still the ones nagging at home.
Ads rely heavily on stereotypes, but I think where creatives can always do better is finding that balance between connecting with the audience without reinforcing outdated and demeaning stereotypes.
That double standard of asking women to do more to prove themselves is one.We’re not sex symbols or impossible measures of perfection, everyone should know that by now. When we speak up, it’s not because we are bossy, it’s because we have opinions worth being taken seriously.
Women can lead, and we can say no without having to give a hundred reasons why. Advertising has the power to resonate with the masses and shape the way we view one another. When nine out of 10 people compare themselves to the images they see in the media, we have an even greater responsibility to show women as we truly are and in all our potential. Given that the audience we tend to speak to are female-centric, female creatives and their insights can be worth their weight in gold. We should speak up and more importantly, be heard.
Yvonne Ma, founder and creative director, Eighty20
Gender stereotyping and sexism have been longstanding issues in advertising, not just in Hong Kong but globally. While there have been efforts to address these issues in recent years, there is still much work to be done to ensure that women are portrayed fairly and accurately in advertising. Gender stereotyping and objectification of women still occur in advertising in Hong Kong. It is important to continue to raise awareness and promote gender equality in advertising to create a more inclusive and diverse society.
Ads should feature women of different ages, races, body types and abilities. This will help to break down the narrow and unrealistic beauty standards that are perpetuated in advertising.
I’d also hope to see more women portrayed as whole people with thoughts, feelings and aspirations, not solely on their physical appearance or sexual appeal. Or more ads celebrating women’s achievements and highlight their contribution to society. This will help to shift the focus from women’s appearance to their accomplishments. Ads should also depict women and men are equal partners who can make their own decisions and have their own strengths and weaknesses, recognising that women are not a monolithic group and that that may face different forms of discrimination and marginalisation based on their race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, or other factors. Campaigns should strive to be intersectional and take into account the unique challenges faced by women with different identities.
After all, I hope the industry can create more campaigns that challenge stereotypes and promote inclusivity, mentoring and supporting more women in the industry and pushing for more diversity and representation in leadership positions.
Kit Yu, creative director, Narrow Door
Yes, the imageries of women in advertisement always feature a set “perfection” of body figure, look, and age. After all, advertising is a commercial art form that reflects vast majority. That’s why we love challenge the norm by conveying our belief through our works - true beauty comes from within, and everyone defines beauty in their own terms.
Advertising empowers brands to curate such story among consumers; to Instil positive value to younger generations.
Stereotypes are necessary but we are not settled. We believe beauty is for every woman, and everyone deserves.
Gum Chan (pictured left) and Crystal Chow (pictured right), associate creative director and digital content manager, PRIZM Group Hong Kong
Women in Hong Kong are generally more independent, strong, and career oriented. We are well respected in society and our social status aren’t any lower than men. Therefore, we don’t think the advertising industry’s opinion on status inequality will be conservative and regressive.
In fact, in recent years, brands are more cautious on gender representations in their marketing. For example, cosmetics brands would avoid using specific “female” acquainted word in consideration for its male customers and, IFM brands would also cover father’s parenting educational content instead of over accentuating the mother’s role. I think this reflects how Hong Kong’s marketing has a mindful and progressive perspective on gender equality.
Hong Kong brands are generally conservative, they would avoid speaking about gender and choose a safer, less controversial, creative direction than to risk jeopardizing the brand’s image. However, the representations of overly optimistic and positive women personas such as the typical assertive contemporary independent women or the sleek passionate young lady can create some distance with the audience. We think exhibiting women’s true voices and thoughts can increase brand’s reliability. For example, highlighting that working moms would also need a “cheat day”.
Contrary to our client’s beliefs, we think the end customer has a greater acceptance for daring creatives. If brands can be more open to various personas of women, then there could be opportunity for more dynamic creatives.
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