Why was Proya’s International Women’s Day campaign met with backlash?

It is the fourth year of Proya’s International Women’s Day (IWD) series of campaigns, called “It’s Gender not Border” (性别不是边界线 偏见才是, lit. “gender is not the boundary, prejudice is”), emphasising gender prejudices. However, soon after the launch of this year’s campaign, Proya was met with waves of backlash. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-equivalent, the controversy caused the brand to appear on the Hot Search list with two topics, including the brand’s name “Proya” (#珀莱雅#) at number 8 and “Did Proya’s IWD marketing flop” (#珀莱雅妇女节营销翻车了吗#) at number 19.

So what happened? Simply put, for its campaign to confront gender stereotypes, Proya invited 5 interviewees to tell their stories. However, it was the inclusion of two men who have been stigmatised for not adhering to conventional masculinity that caused the uproar. The initial response was fury and netizens accused the brand of sabotaging Women’s Day to promote men or being subservient to the patriarchy. One of the popular comments is that “Men already have the other 364 days (365 this year), now they are taking away this one day from us too.”

It is not the first time that Proya has included men in its IWD campaigns. Since 2021, Proya’s first of its series of IWD campaigns has been breaking down the boundaries of gender stereotypes for both men and women. The problem, for many, is that Proya is trying to avoid the tension between feminism and patriarchy by saying men are victims of traditional gender roles. It is, of course, a valid argument and needs more awareness. However, it is likely to trigger some if it is an IWD campaign aimed almost exclusively at women.

Proya quickly deleted the posts and recalled the gifts and merch. IWD on 8 March has now become an important date for promotion and sales, especially for products and services aimed at women. Between 2021 and 2022, March is the month with the third highest sales on Tmall and Taobao, contributing 7.9% of the annual sales, mostly from the 3.8 sales, after November and June, which rely on the Double 11 and 618 shopping festivals. For Proya, it was a crucial time for promotion and marketing. Botching the IWD campaign can have adverse effects on the brand that has built its image on representing women. It also provides a lesson for other brands to find balance in marketing with social topics and how to serve their audiences.


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