First off, for the uninitiated, what is International Women’s Day (IWD)?
IWD was started, interestingly, by the Socialist Party of America in 1909 as a day dedicated to a novel cause at the time – women’s rights. Given its March 8th date by a German group petitioning for women’s right to vote in 1914, IWD was regularly observed by human rights groups through the 20th century, and the holiday was formally recognized by the UN in 1975.
More recently, IWD has been adapted to draw attention to the many hardships still faced by women globally. It is now celebrated as an official public holiday in some countries, many of which are in central Asia, and it is a public holiday for women only in China and Madagascar.
IWD and marketing in Asia-Pacific
Over the past few years, brands worldwide have launched campaigns associated with International Women’s Day, both to show their support for the cause and to highlight how their company has played a part in encouraging gender equality.
In China, International Women’s Day has become, according to Reuters, a day when Chinese retailers offer coupons and discounts on sportswear, cosmetics and healthcare to get women to spend more.
Called either ‘Goddess Day’ or ‘Queen’s Day’ in China, the slightly-altered name implies that the day is more about pampering and consumption than women’s issues – and the associated brand marketing appears to reinforce that view.
Tmall in 2017 co-branded IWD with many of its vendors in an effort to boost shopping through its marketplace.
In 2018, KFC Malaysia changed their iconic logo for the day in honor of Harland ‘Colonel’ Sanders wife, Claudia who was a restaurateur in her own right.
A video about the campaign describes how Claudia played a crucial role in helping her husband build his fast-food empire.
The campaign also highlights hardships faced by women in Malaysia and acknowledges their struggle with a visit from KFC executives and a free KFC dinner.
In 2018, ANZ dedicated its brand journalism site, bluenotes, to International Women’s Day and published a week’s worth of content on women in the workplace and the future of gender equality.
Among its features was an article highlighting the history of women employees at ANZ bank which included the forward-looking policy of hiring women following WWII (though only to ‘cover lunchtime gaps’) and the bank’s ‘Ladies Banking Suite’ opened in 1965 in Melbourne.
So, what is ahead for 2019?
Somewhat surprisingly, the commercialization of International Women’s Day seems to have been dialed back this year, with fewer brands announcing campaigns or promotions to tie in with the observed holiday.
This reluctance to announce IWD plans in advance may be due to the backlash faced by Diageo for their ‘Jane Walker’ campaign last year.
The limited-edition scotch was launched to coincide with IWD, celebrate the holiday and attract women to the brand. However, things did not quite go as planned.
According to Campaign, the company faced criticism following the release with accusations of being ‘patronizing’ and ‘co-opting the women’s movement without doing anything to address gender imbalance.’
Still, a few brands have announced plans to support IWD and its 2019 slogan #balanceforbetter.
In Singapore, apparel brand Love, Bonito is holding a mini-conference on women’s progress in the workplace called ‘Do It Like A #Werking Woman‘.
Described as a celebration of the next generation of young leaders, the event includes talks from high-ranking female executives from Love, Bonito and GO-JEK among others.
Tech start-up i=Change (“I equal change”) has partnered with retailers such as Pandora and Camilla for an International Women’s Day event, Shop for Change.
For IWD, on March 8th, i=Change retail partners donate $5 for every purchase to women and girl’s empowerment projects in Australia and abroad.
i=Change has previously raised over A$1 million from retailers through a $1-per-purchase scheme, so it expects Shop for Change to be a great boost to charities which help women and girls globally.
Ethiopian Airlines – all-female flight
And finally, while not quite in Asia Pacific, Ethiopian Airlines has announced a flight staffed entirely by women on its Addis Ababa-Stockholm-Oslo flight on March 8th, 2019.
— allAfrica.com (@allafrica) March 1, 2019
The historical flight will be entirely operated by women professionals including the flight deck, airport operations, on-board logistics, catering and even air traffic control.
This event is aimed at both drawing attention to the airline’s commitment to International Women’s Day as well as showcasing a new, improved Ethiopian Airlines, which recently received a Skytrax award for ‘Best Airline in Africa’.
These brands will not be the only ones participating in IWD this year, so stay tuned for a 2019 IWD update soon!