BEIJING: Mao Zedong once said that “women hold up half the sky” and while that nostrum has yet to have much impact on the upper levels of China’s political landscape, it is much more evident in business and the economy where women’s independence and spending power have significantly increased.

Partly because of the single child policy, more parents have passed on wealth to a daughter where a previous generation would have given it to a son. And more women than ever before are educated and working: recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that in 2016 women accounted for 52.5% of college students and 43.1% of the workforce.

Accordingly, brands are starting to depict women in a different light in their marketing. “Portraying women as successful and powerful in advertisements is a recent trend, and it’s definitely appealing to Chinese women,” Laurence Lim Dally, a managing director at Cherry Blossoms Market Research & Consulting, told the South China Morning Post.

Further, in major cities, young affluent women may even “care more about the values brands try to convey than the actual product”, according to Steven Kwok, associate partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants.

The contrasting fates of two recent advertising campaigns from beauty brand SK-II and furniture retailer IKEA highlight how important it has become for brands to market to these women in a way that properly addresses their concerns.

IKEA’s image among young women was damaged by an ad – subsequently withdrawn – that showed a mother scolding her daughter for not “bringing home a boyfriend” to meet her parents; when she does introduce one the parents treat him well with the help of various IKEA items.

The pressures on so-called “leftover women” were rather more sensitively treated by SK-II with The Marriage Takeover Market, in which it gave unmarried women a voice and avoided talking about the product. Sales almost doubled as a result – one factor that helped the campaign win the Grand Prix in the 2017 WARC Prize for Asian Strategy.

While many women are battling family expectations, it is also the case that they are relaxed about being seen as the “gentler and softer sex”, according to Angie Wong, managing director at Leo Burnett Shanghai, which is why the “princess” approach is widely deployed by luxury and personal care brands.

Sourced from South China Morning Post, Women of China; additional content by WARC staf