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Brands and Asian women: Getting it right

  • Over half of the Indonesian women want to open their own business
  • China has the highest rate of working women in Asia
  • 91 per cent of Indian women believe education is the most important criteria for a successful woman
  • 90 per cent of Indonesian women say advertisers could do more to connect with them

Women’s roles are shifting rapidly across Asia with new career opportunities, better education and loosening traditions. Women are challenging traditional notions and redefining their roles in Asian society today from recasting the ‘left over women’ phenomena in China to riding the technopreneur wave in Indonesia, according to a report by JWT.

The report surveyed 1,500 women aged 20-45 in China, India and Indonesia. The aim was to examine and contrast attitudes toward finances, career, dating, family roles and beauty norms – and understand what this means for marketers and brands.

“The aim of this study was to go ‘beneath the surface’ and understand new opportunities and tensions for women in Asia’s powerhouse economies – China, India and Indonesia. To uncover how women based on their unique cultural context are navigating these changes differently,” said Atika Malik, Global Planning Director, J Walter Thompson.

Over half of the Indonesian women want to open their own business – much higher than any other market. Technology is making this easier, leading to a mushrooming of ‘Instashops’.

In Indonesia, women are making headway in non-traditional fields, from business to sport. Today’s role models include World Bank COO Sri Mulyani and the country’s first female F1 driver Alexandra Asmasoebrata. Yet 90 per cent of Indonesian women say advertisers could do more to connect with them, for example, with more realistic portrayals of today’s women in advertising.

These findings highlight that work is the most influential driver of change for Indonesian women, but those in rural parts of Indonesia are often left out. Brands that help women navigate tradition and modernity will strike a chord with women. Financial institutions, mortgage lenders and car companies tend to overlook women, even though many women make significant financial decisions in the family.

According to the report, China has the highest rate of working women in Asia. But Chinese women, who face expectations to settle down, have children – and take care of aging parents – also want a more equal relationship at home. Getting along with their in-laws is a number one key to happy marriage. Most Chinese women believe that beauty is extremely important to succeed in the workplace. Only 13 per cent of Chinese women want to look beautiful in order to attract men.

The report highlights that this new generation of financially independent Chinese women provides opportunities for categories like real estate companies, banking and auto marketers. Advertising role models must portray both beauty and brains. With grandparents increasingly doing parental roles, brands should include them in childcare directed communication.

The number of working women in India is low and falling – from just over 37 per cent in 2005 to 30 per cent in 2013 – but that’s partly because more women are studying longer. Around 91 per cent believe that being educated is the single most important criteria for a successful woman.

Career women earning their own money are redefining traditional gender roles. About 64 per cent of the women surveyed felt their opinion is valued at home and work. Popular culture and advertising are challenging traditional stereotypes in the country and they felt that advertising reflected them better than in China or Indonesia.

The report suggests that Indian brands must keep up with and even lead popular culture, celebrating talent and encouraging women to find their identity. Maybe because many ads have started to show a more nuanced portrayal of women, Indian women see advertising in most categories as resonating with them, with the exception of real estate.

“Brands need to understand culture and tradition in Asian society, but they also need keep pace with the changing narrative among women in key, emerging markets. And that’s a message for all brands, not just those that typically ‘talk’ to women. Categories that have traditionally focused on men could also do more to reach out to the region’s female consumers, who have more to spend and are driving both household consumption and family finances in these key markets,” said Tom Doctoroff, J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific CEO.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.