Identify an embarrassing problem and offer a solution. That’s the oldest and simplest way to sell personal hygiene products.
Only it’s a fine line: you don’t want to alienate your customers by making them feel disgusting and you shouldn’t make claims that aren’t true.
Procter and Gamble ignored both rules in a company WeChat post last week, triggering many to vow that they were boycotting its brands.
The offending P&G article claimed that women were smellier and less hygienic than men.
“Popular thinking is that 9 out of 10 men smell, but let us tell you the honest truth…” it began.
The infographic in the article depicts a man holding his nose and goes on to say that women’s feet are five times more odorous because they have more sweat glands; that their underwear has more bacteria because of urine and menstrual blood; that bras smell because women have sweatier chests, and that women have dirtier scalps because they wash their hair less often than men.
Many reading the article were offended, while others questioned whether the company had any research to back up its claims.
“You want to know what stinks? False advertising!” responded one angry WeChat user.
“Why does one gender have to be dirtier that the other? Why make women worry that there is something wrong with them,” asked an another.
China is P&G’s second largest market after the US and the company has previously enjoyed some success in building awareness of its brands on social media, as well as boosting sales of them online.
P&G offers around two dozen personal and domestic hygiene brands in China including Head & Shoulders, Olay, Gillette, Oral-B, Crest, Pampers, Whisper and Tampax.
Yet the backlash to the post was so intense that China Women’s News, a publication of the All-China Women’s Federation, even decried P&G in an editorial. “Personal hygiene habits shouldn’t be attributed to a specific gender, and it’s not desirable to sell products without being objective about things and respecting others,” it said.
P&G eventually retracted the post and apologised for its “inappropriate content” which “disrespected women”.
“P&G always advocates equal, tolerant and respectful values. We have deleted this advertisement and started overhauling this WeChat account,” it contritely announced.
The odd thing about P&G’s gaffe is that in 2016 the company was also responsible for an SK-II skincare commercial that was widely applauded for its sensitivity to women coming under pressure from their families to marry (see WiC321).
Last year Chinese make-up wipe company Purcotton also came under fire for an ad that appeared to blame women for rape if they were wearing makeup and alone outside at night.
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