Gender Wars: The Semiotic Cues Shaping the Future of Chinese Advertising

He/she. They/them. Ze/zir.

Around the world, the idea of gender as something binary is quickly becoming passé. According to Ipsos, half of all American women and 40% of men recognise gender as something fluid. Nearly 20% know someone who is transgender, while 2.5% of those between 18 and 24 identify as non-binary. Dipanjan Chatterjee from Forrester sums up the state of affairs quite well in saying:

“…this is the new normal. This is not a topic that people discuss and debate; this is life.”

Woe to the marketer who advertises beer only for men or cosmetics only for women. Not only are these strategies increasingly seen as out of touch and offensive, but they miss huge segments of the market. The recent GenZ Census found 52% of Canadian youth did not feel adequately represented in marketing and branding. That’s half of one of the largest demographics.

In response, global companies are changing their marketing and branding approaches. Feminine care brand, Always, recently removed its Venus symbol from packaging in recognition trans men can get their periods. Coca-Cola’s 2018 Super Bowl ad used nonbinary pronouns. Television spots for beauty giant Sephora showed how people of all genders could use their products.

Even in China, a relatively conservative society when it comes to gender, we’re seeing the blending of femininity and masculinity in product design, marketing, and branding. Of course, there’s still plenty of pink-for-girls and blue-for-boys traditional marketing. But the emergence of a third space has caught many brands by surprise. Understanding the cultural and semiotic cues behind what sells to which segment is critical to market success in modern China.

TSI is pleased to present this month’s Compass, which explores the evolving world of gender in the Chinese consumer marketplace. Our monthly Compass series will continue to explore the most relevant and current topics impacting business success. We hope its content proves beneficial to your work in China and the region.

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