Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

When tracking the evolution of developing countries, we see many of the trends in the West working at hyper-speed in Asia (e.g. growth of the middle class, adoption of branding and technology).

A couple of weeks ago our Asia team had a really interesting discussion about how a growing trend of women’s independence is manifesting in the region. Recent articles such as The Curse of the Mummyji in the Economist, and Brands look anew at single Asian women in WARC inspired a fascinating email discussion as our Hong Kong and Singapore team shared their personal experiences and thoughts on the topic.

Serena Jacob (Head of FACE Singapore) talked about the Indian mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationship, Andrew Ho (Managing Director of FACE Asia) had thoughts on “carnivore women” and “herbivore men” in Japan, and I (Nicole Li) shared some thoughts on “victorious women” in China.

Our blog editors thought this was far too interesting not to share, and so we’ve written it up in this post. What are the gender trends we’re seeing develop, and why?

Understanding the wider Asian context

Before we look at individual markets, let’s consider some social and economic factors that sit across Asia. Firstly, the cost of living has been increasing rapidly in Asia, necessitating dual income households. When women need to work they also need to acquire skills and therefore need an education, which means that more and more Asian women have economic independence. Secondly, the exposure to alternate points of view and ways of being through a variety of media, including social media, is changing the mindset of Asian women. And last but not least, the Internet has raised public awareness towards crimes against women in Asian countries and helped moving women’s rights forward. For example, the gang rape cases in India have raised international attention.


All of the above factors have meant that more and more Asian women are now able to get an education, build careers, generate enough disposable income to indulge their own tastes, and have the confidence to make choices for themselves.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that women’s growing independence will take the same shape across Asia. Let’s look at how these have been manifesting in China, Japan and India, and how are brands adapting to these trends – or even leading the way.

China & Hong Kong – From “leftover ladies” to “flourishing females”

In China and Hong Kong, the term “leftover ladies” (剩女) have been a very popular topic in the past few years. The term is used to describe women who remain single into their 30s and beyond, and it implies that there is something wrong with them. However, people have recently started to push back on this by swapping the first word “sheng” for another word that is pronounced identically but is written differently in Chinese. This term has a more positive meaning – “shengnu” as in “flourishing women” (盛女) in Hong Kong and “victorious women” (勝女) in China.

How does this “flourishing women” trend play out?

Changing women in Asia - prebridal wedding shoot

  • In Hong Kong, many women are re-examining their identities and exploring how they can live a “flourishing” single life. For instance, solo pre-wedding bridal shoots have been gaining popularity, as many women decide that they do not need to wait for “the One” to fulfill their desire to be photographed wearing nice dresses, to leave a good memory of their youth and beauty
  • Some brands have joined Chinese women to celebrate their “victorious life” – for instance, according to the Wall Street Journal, Maserati has been hosting private cocktail parties together with Giorgio Armani and La Perla for successful young female business executive in China. According to the car company, women account for 40% of Quattroporte orders in China, compared to less than 5% in Europe and USA.

Japan – Enjoying the “single lifestyle”

Those who have watched Japanese drama will be familiar with the following scene – a Japanese housewife standing at the doorstep greeting her husband when he comes back from work. In the traditional role, Japanese women are expected to stay at home and take care of the family while their husbands deal with the outside world.

But this is changing – as illustrated by a few expressions that seek to capture change in women’s role in the Japanese society:

  • Carnivore Women vs. Herbivore Men – the rise of ambitious, career driven women in response to the increasing population of “vegetarian” men who (metaphorically speaking) do not aggressively hunt for dates or career advancement, but instead prefer to “eat grass” side by side with women
  • sekkusu shinai shokogun, or ‘Celibacy Syndrome’ – Japanese survey data is suggesting that many young women are avoiding engaging in relationships. A 2011 survey from Japan’s National Insitute of Population and Social Security Research reported that 49% of unmarried women under 35 (and 61% of men) were not in any kind of romantic relationship, and 90% (!) of young women believed that staying single was “preferable to what they imagine marriage would be like”. Instead, young women are preferring to build a carefree and comfortable single lifestyle
  • Products tailored for singles are not new news in Japan: for instance a real estate company called Tokyo’s Girl Fudosan designs “kawaii”/ cute feminine style condos offering communal living solutions markets itself towards female residents.

India – Women gaining independence

Traditionally, the role of Indian women is strongly defined and confined by the family. Indian women marry relatively young and once married, they are expected to be completely submissive to the family they have married into, particularly their ‘mummyji’ (mother-in-law).

This situation has been changing, however – the increasing cost of living and high real-estate costs mean apartments in large metros are small and can only accommodate “nuclear” families. This means that there are more households where the young housewife makes the brand decisions, and she will potentially adopt new categories and brands that her mother-in-law might not have allowed.

Cointreauversial India

As a result of their growing independence and increasing personal disposable income, Indian women are spending more and experimenting with more product categories. For example, there is a growing acceptance of women consuming alcohol - “We girls normally hang out once a week at some joint or the other. For us, it’s a stress-buster,” says one 29-year-old advertising executive. And brands have recognized this change: e.g. the French alcohol brand Remy Cointreau has held parties and promotional events targeted at female drinkers, with discounts offered proportionate to the height of the heels they are wearing!

Closing thoughts

Women’s growing independence is a strong trend in Asia, and in even less developed countries than those we’ve mentioned, we reckon it will become mainstream faster than many companies expect. While some brands have already adapted to this, most are yet to recognize this with brand communications that still harp back to traditional gender roles. We hope that a deeper understanding of their cultural differences and societal development would inspire more interesting and culturally sensitive communications for Asian women.

Please stay tuned for an extension of this article, as we will be tracking how the trends manifest in different countries in Asia.

FACE is growing, and this month’s new arrival in the office is someone whose role is to do exactly that: grow our consultancy business. His name is James Hirst, and he joins us as Global Business Development Director from branding agency Clear.

Doubtless a few of you will be hearing from James in the next few weeks, so we wanted to introduce him to you now – along with his fresh point of view on how agencies can help clients achieve their business ambitions.

Over to James:

James Hirst

Tell us what brought you to FACE?

In my opinion there are not many agencies who truly understand how to leverage social media in such a way as FACE. Couple that with leading edge research techniques and I was sold.

What do you think should change in the agency/client relationship?

As I touch upon below, I think agencies need to truly understand what our clients are trying to achieve and how that links to the ultimate goal of the business they work in. If we can understand that then we can truly help them. I guess it needs a bit of give and take from both sides and for agencies to be seen as trusted partners. Something that is hard (but not impossible) when you work on a project-by-project basis.

Tell us about yourself outside of work!

Outside of work I try spend as much time as possible with my family, although that is mostly made up entertaining my young son (whose current addiction has moved from Fireman Sam, through Peppa Pig, to Toy Story). When I do get a minute to myself I can usually be found training for triathlons and half marathons.


And now for a few thoughts from James:

“Unfortunately I was unable to attend the recent Marketing Society event, so when Marketing Week hit my inbox on Friday morning with a headline of Martin Glenn: ‘All business failures are marketing failures at heart, I was interested to read on.

The element that struck me the most was his point about bolder marketing leadership. To steal Martin’s quote:

“We’re put on this earth as marketers to either steal share from someone, grow a market, change behaviour or make more money and I don’t think we should be ashamed about that”

It made me think about the client/agency relationship and how important it is to make sure we are helping our clients achieve their ultimate goals – be they business or personal.

FACE, as leaders in the world of social insight, are on a mission to help our clients raise their SQ (social intelligence quotient). We want to help brands get a deeper understanding of their consumers at individual, group and network levels – so we like to think we are very well placed to help achieve all of the above.

“All business failures are marketing failures at their heart,” says Martin Glenn. “The businesses that don’t exist today that did 20 or 30 years ago got their marketing wrong.”

And why does marketing go wrong? It goes wrong when it doesn’t understand its audience, and it doesn’t understand their needs.

Imagine being able to understand and analyse what people are posting, tweeting, sharing on social networks from Twitter to YouTube to Yammer and then being able to go deeper with a selected audience to find out the why, the where, the when, and the different attitudes and needs  inspiring people’s consumer behaviour.

To quote again “We’re put on this earth as marketers to either steal share from someone, grow a market, change behaviour or make more money”

Research can play a pivotal role in achieving this. It gives brands the deep consumer understanding they need to change behaviours, appeal to new customers, or justify a higher price premium. Answering these questions (and more) is  what we do here at FACE. And the smart and innovative ways in which we do it is definitely something that has struck me in my first few weeks at the company.”


If you’d like to have a talk with us about your brand’s big business challenges and what we can do to help you meet them, then you can reach James on 07961 527 366, email or connect with him on LinkedIn here.

insight-innovation-exchange 400px

That’s right – the London team are off to Amsterdam on 19-20 February to attend IIEX-EU 2014 – the Insight Innovation Exchange European conference.

They say, “The Insight Innovation eXchange connects seasoned practitioners with new thinkers, human behavior experts with technology, and the private and public sectors. We set the stage for connections that help mash ideas and technology together, knowing that those interactions will help bring about the next rEvolution in marketing insights”

Ideas and technology – that’s what’s we’re about!

So here’s quick rundown of the FACE team members going and what we’ll be sharing with the conference:

  1. Research manager Jess Owens will be presenting on Wednesday 19th at 17:00, talking about “Using social media research for agile, adaptive customer intelligence”. If you’re not able to attend the conference, check out her webinar on Thursday 13th Feb to hear more!
  2. We’ll also be demoing our social media intelligence platform Pulsar on an exhibition stand – led by global sales manager James Cuthbertson.We’ll be tracking the #IIEX hashtag throughout the event, so come and visit him to discover the topics, speakers and issues driving the most buzz among conference attendees. Here’s our findings from last year’s conference.
  3. Finally FACE’s newest arrival, business development director James Hirst will also be attending for meetings and one-to-one discussions.
  4. And of course stay tuned for tweets from @FaceResearch!

We look forward to seeing some of you there.


Digital technology and social media have dramatically speeded up the pace of brand-customer relationships.

They also speed up the pace of brand crises.

But has market research insight delivery kept pace?

Clients and agencies have learnt that you need new research tools, and in this webinar we’ll be talking about one of them: social media analytics and insight. But these new technologies often feed into old processes and old business structures, allowing much of the dynamism of real-time data to be lost.

That’s why we want to talk to you about agile insight.

Social media researcher Jess Owens will be presenting a  a 3o minute webinar on Thursday 13 February (4pm GMT / 11 am EST) – join her to find out more.

It’ll preview her talk at the Insight & Innovation Exchange conference in Amsterdam on 19 February – and offer the chance to ask questions about her experiences managing helping her clients – from mobile, banking and retail – manage crises and consumer backlash in social.


At 9am one morning I got a call from my client at O2: “We’re having a crisis. Total network outage. There’s an executive board meeting in an hour and we need to give them a total overview of the entire situation so that we can plan our response.”

In this webinar we’ll cover 4 topics:

  1. Social media insight for crisis management - what we’ve done for clients from O2 to banks to major retailers, and where the biggest value has been for our clients
  2. Brand threats and longer-term issue management – how can social help?
  3. Partnership with clients to build an agile, actionable research programme – aka is the weekly report always the best way to share research insights? Not necessarily
  4. The true power of the brand tracker dataset - how the unprompted nature of social media mentions allows far adaptive and flexible research, providing the ability to instantly answer questions brands didn’t even know they had

Sounds good?

Sign up here on GoToWebinar for the session on Thursday 13 February (4pm GMT / 11am EST). We look forward to seeing you there!

Or if you’ve got any questions in the interim, get in touch with Jessica via LinkedIn or Twitter – she tweets for us @FaceResearch as well as from her personal account, @hautepop


Jess Owens profile photo

Jess Owens is a social media researcher in FACE’s London office. As one of the first members of the Global Social Insight team, she has pioneered new research methods with social data, from audience mapping, channel effectiveness studies and studying social media virality and content diffusion. She’s presented several workshops at ESOMAR about social media research  methods, and will be speaking at IIEX on 19 February.

While growing up in Singapore, I don’t recall visiting art galleries or events as a regular activity, either in school or in my own leisure time. Art, for me, was merely another subject in school, where you get some fun out of making colour imprints from cut-up tomatoes and potatoes. There were organized annual art & craft competitions where only the best pieces would be displayed – the less good pieces would be shelved at home for closed-door appreciation. In my memory, there was little about exploring art.

Things have changed dramatically in the recent years. There is an upbeat tempo in the art scene in this region. Unlike in the past, art has become more disposable and accessible – more informal pop-up locations than formal museums; more free and open events than having to pay for expensive entrance tickets; more recognition of local artists rather than only foreign artists whose names we can’t even enunciate; more close-to-heart topics than abstract art that we can’t connect with .

In this post, I will share some of my “art encounters in Asia” with you and conclude with some thoughts on how this changes the way we approach advertising and consumer insights.

The following 5 exhibitions are ones that have particularly captured my imagination. I feel it’s valuable for us to share these from us here in the Asia office back towards colleagues and readers in the West, so you can get a sense of what the new creativity looks like in this market and how it may differ from trends in London or New York galleries. Brands and marketers headquartered in the West need to pay attention to artistic expression coming from China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia etc  in order to understand the interests, questions, concerns and aesthetics at play in these markets. Brands’ visual languages can’t be imposed from the West on to “the rest” any more – they need to listen and learn.

On to the art:

Pop-up art exhibition in Georgetown (Penang, Malaysia) in a very dilapidated shop house 

13: Rebirth – a group exhibition in continuation of 12

A collection of installation and art pieces on the idea of Rebirth

Reflecting on the meaning of life, death, and rebirth

1 2

 Art space in K11 shopping mall in Shanghai, China

This is the world’s first art shopping mall

 A photography artwork inspired by the life-threatening air pollution in China

Artwork portray commoners in masks, each mask telling a different story

“I am afraid this will be a silence call for help”

 Reflects the relationship between environment and people and the vulnerability of life


Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (Bangkok, Thailand)

I am Fat / Mannequins – an interpretation of beauty and perfection

Reflects the hard truths of acceptance against social expectations on beauty


Singapore Art Museum (Singapore)

Actual-size installation on a Primary School in Yangon

Brings fresh perspective on living standards and education

Set in a developed country, this installation is a thought-starter to get people thinking about their own (comfortable) environment and dwellings


 Noise Singapore 2013[J1] 

An annual open-public event dedicated to recognize the creative works of youths – work ranges from art and design, music and photography

There is one of the photography pieces that were curated for 2013

This event encourages youths to showcase their creativity and infuse fresh perspectives


Art is clearly another language to communicate meaning and emotions without language barriers. It opens up a different window to interpret the world, cultures, environment, politics, society and emotions. This brings about new values and perspectives, which may change our attitudes and behaviour.

The increasing vibrancy of the art scene in Singapore – and across a region becoming more affluent and more middle class – means potentially new public sphere for ideas. It allows more space for expression and creativity. By creative, I am not implying that everyone will become an artist, but that the audiences are able to realize themselves as capable and inspiring thinkers. There’s more of a public forum for people to discuss representation, and meaning, and creative ideas – and for these thoughts to feed back up and be heard by artists, brands and cultural institutions.

This changes how brands should approach consumers with their communication strategy. While a single-minded message is the rule-of-thumb, this doesn’t mean the delivery must be linear. With a changing consumer profile, consumers are capable interpreting meanings with broader perspectives, and brands that recognize this – who don’t feel they need to talk down to their audiences, but who trust them to be able to interpet complex imagery and narratives – have a chance to win a greater share of attention, personal recognition, and loyalty.

Many brands have succeeded in this – Coca Cola is a classic example that doesn’t need further introduction. Absolut Vodka continues to build buzz with its limited edition bottles with iconic designs. In 2013, Absolut Vodka put up its first Absolut Canvas exhibition dedicated to the art and creativity of the brand at the Singapore History Museum. Other brands advertised using creative art installations to connect with people in their daily lives.

We also need to move away from the traditional marketing hierarchy. Consumers are no longer ‘external’ stakeholders but ‘internal’ stakeholders, who can play a fundamental role in directing the brand strategies.  At FACE, we believe every consumer has a voice – hence it is essential for brands to engage with consumers at an early stage to shape the idea. Through co-creation workshops, brands can start conversations with consumers, build ideas and create stories together with them.

After all, it is an art to paint a full picture.


Calin Chua is a Research Manager for Face Asia. She has worked on a diverse range of brands, including Starbucks and Nokia. 

Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.