P&G hurts Chinese female consumers with “insulting” copywriting

Procter & Gamble (P&G), the American multinational consumer goods brand, is in the hot seat in China after an article published by the brand’s membership centre on its WeChat subscription was accused of being “disrespectful” to women.

Entitled “Women’s foot odour is five times as strong as men’s, give it a smell!”, the article (which has since been deleted) intended to promote several sub-brands’ hygiene products including Safeguard’s shower gel, Rejoice’s hair shampoo, Ariel underwear laundry foam, and Tide washing powder. The article soon sparked fierce anger amongst Chinese women with the “unfounded statistics” suggesting women are smellier than men. This use of language is deliberately exaggerated to vilify women with an intention to show the cleaning effectiveness of its products.

After days of being embroiled in the controversy since the publication on 13 March, P&G posted a short statement on Weibo on 24 March, apologising for the “inappropriate content that offends women”. It also says “equality, inclusivity, and respect are the core values at P&G” and adds it will “rectify its WeChat account management and avoid recurrence of this incident.” The hashtag “P&G Apologises” soon garnered over 350 million views on China’s biggest microblogging site.

However, the public seems to be far from forgiving with some viewing the apology as superficial and lacking sincerity. Others question how the copywriting got approved in the first place and argue the first publication shows “a systematic misology” at P&G.  

P&G’s offending attitude towards women has been echoed with some recalling the debate last year, involving P&G and Yang Li. The Chinese female stand-up comedian was set to host a live streaming session on the Chinese e-commerce platform JD.com in March 2021, in collaboration with P&G.

However, the online event was called off right before kick-off, as “aggressive comments” from angry male viewers flocked into the online waiting room due to the presence of this controversial female figure, who is sharp with her comments on women’s issues and is often deemed as ridiculing men.

The cancellation also saw the end of the cooperation between the brand and Yang Li, which, therefore, enhanced the public impression of P&G’s disrespect for women. The latest episode has rubbed salt into the wound of female consumers, with many joking saying “P&G probably doesn’t need women consumers” and the brand now, unsurprisingly, is facing public cancellation in China.

With women in China being a crucial consumer segment in the Chinese market, the scandal will undoubtedly result in financial loss for the brand. The woe at P&G also raises alarm for other brands to take extra caution when tapping into gender issues for their campaigns and respect for consumers should always be the rule of thumb.


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