I was recently asked by a marketing magazine here in
Asia to evaluate what I thought of the new (or should I say,
reinvented) Singapore Airlines campaign. The campaign, if you have
not seen it, shows the familiar Singapore Girl–a lovely Singapore
Airlines flight attendant–walking around various iconic locations
of the world (Paris, Wuzhen, San Francisco, and Jaisalmer) with a
serene look on her face, helping people as she goes.
After gathering opinions both in-house (from my team in Landor's
Singapore office) and from others in the creative industry in Asia,
I've determined this is a very polarizing campaign. To be clear: I
like it. It's a pleasant commercial to watch in a media space
cluttered with a lot of harassment, shameless credentialing, and
cheesy, “hilarious” creative. And I know this ad is Singapore
Airlines: The campaign ticks all the brand-building boxes and
enforces its unique iconography without showing a single A380 or
SilverKris (until the end frame).
Most of my Singaporean female staff are apathetic about the
campaign with an it’s-OK-nothing-new reaction. Our male teammates
are more positively engaged. However, the rather passionate
detractors (including both men and women) feel it's cliché, lacks
emotional depth, and paints a picture of an Asian woman from days
past which is insulting today.
What do you think? Is the new Singapore Girl campaign symbolic
of the modern Asian woman, or is it an insult? Let's take a look at
what typifies women in Asia today.
First, let me define what I mean by “Asian women.” You may be
thinking in terms of either Chinese, Japanese, or perhaps Indian or
Korean women, and forget about the Southeast Asian countries (of
which there are 12 including the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam,
Thailand, and Cambodia) and Northern Asian countries, like
Pakistan. But it’s crucial to take all these various nations into
account. It’s key to keep in mind that Asian women encompass a
melting pot of ethnicities, each with their own cultural
constructs. If for practical purposes we think of all Asian women
as one group, what epitomizes a modern Asian woman? And how should
brands behave to attract this increasingly sophisticated consumer
and earn her loyalty?
Brands need to appreciate that Asian women live in the
fastest-growing consumer market in the world. The distribution of
wealth in Asian countries is also like no other region: On one end
of the spectrum China, Japan, and India’s GDP puts them in the top
five richest countries in the world.1 On the other side
we have Afghanistan, which due to extreme poverty and civil unrest,
has the world’s second highest infant mortality rate at 150/1,000
live births.2 This great discrepancy in wealth
influences Asian women’s purchasing choices, whichever end of the
spectrum they live in.
An Asian woman is more empowered in the market today than ever
before. Whether she lives in an established economy like Japan or
Singapore, enjoying product choices and the ability to buy everyday
luxuries, or she lives in a developing market where she is offered
the opportunity to start a small business through
microfinance–women in Asia are active in the workforce and the
Asian women work in a more equitable environment than their
Western sisters. The gap between women’s income and men’s is
closing far quicker in Asia than it is in the West.3 The
often-quoted Chinese proverb states that women “hold up half the
sky.” Now, in addition to fulfilling her traditional role in the
home, Asian women have more disposable income than before and
annually spend seven times the amount of money as Asian
men.4 More Asian women are leading large companies and
becoming the new captains of industries-such as Sung Joo Kim of
Korea, the chairwoman and CEO of Sungjoo Group AG and MCM Holdings,
and Yan Cheung “the recycling queen,” chairlady and cofounder of
Nine Dragons Paper Holdings, who is reportedly the richest woman in
China. Across Asia there has also been a steady increase in the
number of women gaining tertiary qualifications.
On top of being well educated, employed in high-paying jobs, and
enjoying more disposable income than before, today’s affluent Asian
women are younger too. Eighty percent of wealthy women in China are
under 45 compared to 30 percent in the United States and 19 percent
in Japan.5 To get the attention of Asian women
consumers, brands need to speak to a young, successful female
audience. Think ages 18-25. Ambitious. Smart.
Brands must also take into account that Asian women’s shopping
behavior is unique from her Western sisters. Shopping is a social
activity and the goal is not necessarily to make a purchase. Group
shopping is one of an Asian woman’s main hobbies-over 20 percent of
Asian women go shopping every weekend with no expectation of
purchasing. While she peruses the malls contemplating what to
buy-either now or on some future shopping mission-the Asian woman
is looking for brands to convince and entertain.
Both female and male Asian consumers are avid readers of product
information on packs. They are also increasingly cynical about
traditional advertising and research their purchases thoroughly. As
a result, marketers tend to constantly reinvent their products and
amplify their benefits with claims on packs like: “Better skin in
seven (or five, or three) days”; or “Younger, slimmer, and more
beautiful in just one week.”
Stores like Sephora, where cosmetics can be tried out prior to
purchase, are increasing in popularity. In Tokyo, Shiseido built
education centers where consumers can only sample products, not
even buy them. These types of educational retail environments are
seen as worth the investment in the competitive Asian beauty space
where women need to believe in a brand’s promise. To attract the
attention of Asian women out meandering the shops with friends,
brands need to tell a story that describes relevant, functional
Asian women are spending more time online: 53 percent of her
media consumption is online.6 She outnumbers her North
American sisters more than two to one in terms of time spent
online, at approximately 24.8 hours per month.7 She is
more of an early adopter of digital innovations than her Western
sisters too: 37 percent of women in China and Japan use their
mobile phones to stalk–I mean, track–their friends versus 13
percent in the West.8
Like all busy “super women” around the world, an Asian woman has
much less spare time these days for one of her favorite social
activities-shopping. She balances a lack of time to visit malls
with an insatiable appetite for shopping up a storm online. But not
only is her shopping method shifting, the particulars of what she’s
buying is too.
Contrary to popular stereotypes of Asian women being
predominantly family focused in their consumption, 81 percent of
purchases made online are for herself only.9 Her growing
role in the business world and increased earning power mean she’s
indulging more. However, she is not just purchasing the expected
fashion or beauty items. As she takes more control of the household
purse, her purchases include more consumer electronics, travel, and
banking items. Marketers should focus media buying efforts on
clever online use.
When brands compete in the retail space, marketing efforts
should highlight functional benefits and offer
“shoppertainment”–without corrupting the brand's equity, of course.
Beyond shopping online, the Asian woman is researching brands,
networking, blogging, and gaming more than her Asian male
On top of everything else, Asian women are putting more effort
into their beauty routine than Western women. According to a recent
study conducted by TNS Asia Pacific, 59 percent of Asian women feel
it is important to put effort into looking good before leaving home
in the morning compared to 39 percent of their U.S.
sisters.10 And I believe it: Having lived in Asia for
the past three years, I am constantly assaulted by offers to make
my breasts larger, my skin lighter, my waist leaner. Despite Asian
women being among the most educated in the world, beauty is still
very important and perceived as just as critical to success as a
good job and solid education. According to some newspaper articles,
the Chinese plastic surgery industry has grown into a $2.5 billion
industry, and South Korea is reported to have the highest rate of
cosmetic surgery in the world.11
Now that the prevailing trends have been discussed, what do you
make of the Singapore Airlines campaign and its demure portrayal of
a beautiful female protagonist? While Asian women are no doubt
beautiful, social, and caring, there's much more to them than a
pretty face and helpful attitude. Remember her earning power,
control of the family finances, and high level of education for
Any marketer who hopes their brand will win the hearts and minds
of Asian women should first consider the complexity of the Asian
region, then take a rational, heavily benefit-led approach. It’s
crucial to go to where she spends most of her time: online. Make
sure brands help Asian women become more successful and more
beautiful, gain credibility and status, and build a healthy family.
Oh, and don’t forget: Brands must make her happy, too.
The following brands are making a successful claim in
Japan’s best-kept secret SK-II targets the modern, successful
Asian woman’s key beauty concerns: how to get radiant, blemish-free
white skin following a simple, proven regimen. Its positioning is
scientifically based; it has a clean, sophisticated visual identity
system and speaks in a straightforward tone of voice. With
relevant, believable celebrity endorsers whose radiant skin is
tracked over the years as they use SK-II, the brand strikes the
perfect balance between being a great product with proven benefits
and one that’s associated with celebrity glamour.
Many luxury brands are a success here in Asia but few start a
fashion revolution. Coach’s wristlets are the sought-after fashion
accessory of 2011 for the practical Asian female shopper. In fact,
when I mentioned to my team that I had never heard of a wristlet, I
was looked at with what can only be discerned as pity! Fastened
around the wrist, these mini purses with room for keys, phone,
credit cards, and cash are perfect for a busy day at the market or
mall. It’s a glamorous accessory with a practical application.
United Overseas Bank ran a campaign called “The men don't get
it” for its women-only credit card club to attract female customers
by offering them deals specific to their needs. The campaign could
have been patronizing but the insightful positioning of its launch
ensured it was well received. Its accompanying “Lady's Soulmate”
app (available on most smartphone platforms) is pure genius. It
appeals to the busy, modern woman and her desire to stay connected,
allowing her to organize her life, connect with her friends, and
track hot deals from her mobile.
Singaporean fashion label Raoul, created by power couple Douglas
and Odile Benjamin, began life in 2002 as a men’s shirt company.
Later the duo added a successful women's line, and opened 30 stores
across Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Raoul debuted in Europe
during Paris Fashion Week in 2009.
Another Singapore-based fashion label, Alldressedup has been
recognized internationally and is now sold alongside Marc Jacobs
and Stella McCartney at online powerhouse net-a-porter.com. With 30
years’ experience in luxury fashion and lifestyle retail, founder
Tina Tan-Leo believes her successful label appeals to the
“bohemian-spirited traveler in every woman.”
Raoul and Alldressedup are proof that local Asian design talent
is on the meteoric rise.
1 "Top 25 Richest
Countries as Defined by GDP," CountryReports (accessed 16
Comparison Infant Mortality Rate," The World Factbook, Central
Intelligence Agency (accessed 17 March 2011).
3 "Building Relationships with Busy Female Professionals,"
presentation by Lizzy Nolan of Mediacom at 2010 Marketing to Modern
Asian Women Conference (Singapore, 29 November 2010).
4 See footnote 3.
5 "Co-creation with Affluent Asian Women," McKinsey &
Company, 2009, presented at 2010 Marketing to Modern Asian Women
Conference (Singapore, 29 November 2010).
6 "The Secret Online Lives of Asian Mothers Uncovered," from the
presentation, Asian Mothers: Embracing Online Shopping by
Starcom MediaVest Group and Microsoft, presented at 2010 Marketing
to Modern Asian Women Conference (Singapore, 29 November 2010).
7 "What Women Want: Leveraging on Digital Channels to Enhance
Marketing Campaigns to Asian Women," presented by Nikolaus Ong of
MRM Worldwide at 2010 Marketing to Modern Asian Women Conference
(Singapore, 29 November 2010).
8 See footnote 3.
9 See footnote 6.
10 Jessica Davey and Emily Walton, Ogilvy Action, at 2010
Marketing to Modern Asian Women Conference (Singapore, 29 November
11 Facts and Details, Jeffrey Hays, 2010. factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=136&catid=11&subcatid=
(accessed 16 March 2011); Asian Plastic Surgery, asianplasticsurgeryguide.com/news10-2/081003_south-korea-highest.html
(accessed 16 March 2011).
This article appeared in slightly different form in the Hub
© 2011 Landor Associates. All rights reserved.