Published on Adobo Magazine.
Vietnam’s formidable female workforce is inspiring: with participation hovering around 71 per cent over the last 30 years, while the rise of female leadership is as rapid as the economic growth.
From 2009 to 2019, representation of female leaders in the economic sector rose from four per cent to 27.8 per cent, while female parliamentarians reached 27.1 per cent, much higher than the global average.
While these numbers are impressive and the envy of markets striving for gender equality, perception and representation of this progressive society goes unnoticed in the world of advertising, where traditional stereotypes prevail.
The industry has been remiss in elevating and recognising her diverse and multi layered role; instead Vietnamese women are portrayed as the homemaker in laundry detergents, the caretaker in infant milk formula or the main role in the preparation for TET. While campaigns celebrating her on International Women’s Day focus on her role as a good mother and wife, but never championing her individual success beyond the home.
The significance of her role as a nurturing mother\ daughter\ sister\ aunt\ friend should not be underestimated and equally, nor should her role as an ambitious and successful female contributing to society beyond the home. While we witness more females moving into leadership position and into unconventional roles such as construction workers, police officers and taxi drivers, communication remains stagnant, further reinforcing traditional behaviours and attitudes that, even without realising it, reinforce unequal gender convictions.
It is true the average Vietnamese woman spends five hours a day completing housework duties with the expectations to manage the majority of the responsibility of the household even while she is working. However, as advertisers, we must turn this around and take responsibility to present work that is challenging the cultural codes brands are defaulting to, we must deliver authentic and aspirational work that represents a world that is, and a world that could be.
While women are still chained to their chores, perhaps a solution to help drive change is to flip the lid on male stereotypes. Just as Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’ pushed to change behaviour in India. We have seen some examples in Vietnam, such as the Sunlight dishwashing detergent. To encourage Vietnamese men to wash dishes, they created a dumbbell-shaped detergent bottle. This communication proved effective with the product selling out within 24 hours after the launch.
At a national level, especially for big brands, there is a comfort in conforming for fear of losing relevancy with rural consumers. But does this sea of sameness limit this communities knowledge of what could be? If brands have the power to change the world, shouldn’t our communications challenge the status quo and do the brave thing? Shouldn’t our communication provide ambition, inspiration and stand for something to strive for?
As Vietnam continues to progress at speed, agencies need to step up and take responsibility to drive change and to deliver work that authentically represents today’s society and help shape the future. Those brands that get this right now, will have a brighter future.