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Keep up with shifts in gender roles during COVID-19, Indonesia advertisers urged

News Stories /01 June 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has a real impact on gender equality at home, at work and in society. It has exacerbated multiple burdens on women, especially amid lockdowns and school closures. But there is also evidence that some men have engaged more in household responsibilities during the pandemic. Are brands adapting to this shift in gender norms?

The Indonesian Advertising Agencies Association (P3I) asked this question to industry stakeholders on 27 April 2022 at an online panel discussion titled “Evolving Gender Norms After Pandemic.” Speakers included representatives from Investing in Women (IW); milk brand Frisian Flag; video platform Tiktok; and AyahAsi Indonesia, a support group for partners of breastfeeding women. Lia Sunarho, Managing Director of creative platform FAB Indonesia, moderated the panel.

Mirror versus mould

The discussion highlighted the advertising industry’s role in shaping gender norms and the urgency of the issue, particularly in the context of COVID-19. Wita Krisanti, IW Country Manager for Indonesia, cited data on the increased reporting of gender-based violence in Indonesia during the pandemic and the increased mental and physical stress, which is more pronounced among women than men.

Citing the common argument that advertising messages are demand-driven and merely mirror consumer sentiment, Ms Krisanti challenged industry stakeholders to better listen to consumers. Consumer’s perceptions on gender roles might already be changing, but consumer or market research approaches that are gender-blind will not capture this shift.

Ms Krisanti also emphasised industry’s role in shaping social norms. “What is the role of the industry? Is advertising responding to these phenomena or is it business as usual? Are they supporting the change in perceptions and enabling gender equality or are they reinforcing the norms that limit women’s economic participation?” she said.

Male role models for care

Syafiq Pontoh, Co-Founder of AyahAsi Indonesia, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the need for more male role models in caring roles. Countering the view that women are biologically designed to be the primary carers, he argued that men must share the burden of running the household to enable women to breastfeed and contribute to the household income.

He, however, recognised how perceptions of social expectations can discourage men participating in care work. “There are social barriers even when men want to get involved in household work. Usually, your parents or someone from your extended family will have something to say,” Mr Pontoh said. Advertising can help address these social barriers, by validating the choices of men who share caring roles.

A demand for empathy

Felicia Julian, Marketing Director at Frisian Flag Indonesia, agreed that brands need to be agile in adapting to consumer trends driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Brands need to follow what has changed and to see what has changed, we must listen to consumers,” she said.

There is no place for complacency in marketing, Ms Julian added, noting that the consumer landscape is consistently shifting, especially because of disruptions like COVID-19. The reality, she said, is that sometimes you have just adapted your strategy in response to a change, but the market shifts again so you also need to revisit your approach.

“We wear our hats of empathy to understand what is happening with mothers or their families or with our target consumers to make both products or campaigns resonate with them better or to educate them and support them in pain points that they themselves may not be able to identify,” Ms Julian said. Technology, she added, can make listening to consumers simpler.

Sitaresti Astarini, Head of Business Marketing at Tiktok Indonesia thinks the same. Citing industry reports, Ms Astarini said women do not feel that they are accurately represented in brand campaigns but noted that social media platforms like Tiktok provide brands with authentic consumer personas. Used well, these insights can help brands better connect with their audiences.

More than 50 industry participants joined the webinar, which is part of a series organised by P3I to encourage brands to address gender stereotypes in their campaigns. The webinars also seek to raise awareness about an IW-supported special award for campaigns that challenge gender stereotypes in December 2022 at Citra Pariwara, the largest advertising industry event in Indonesia. #

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