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    Chinese Detergent Brand in a Spin Over Sexist Ad Campaign

    Washing powder maker Blue Moon ran a campaign calling for people to “Make laundry easier for mom” this Mother’s Day. Women responded they’d rather their partners took care of it.

    One of China’s leading detergent brands has found itself in hot water this week after running a Mother’s Day ad campaign implying that the nation’s moms should spend the holiday doing laundry.

    The posters promoting Blue Moon’s washing powder bear the slogans “Make laundry easier, more effortless, and more worry-free for mom” and “Mom, you use it first,” with the background filled with silhouettes of women engaged in various household chores.

    Blue Moon — a household name in China, with sales in the billions of yuan — paid for the posters to appear in apartment buildings and elevators across China, with the aim of promoting a special livestream sales event to be held on Saturday.

    But the company quickly found itself overwhelmed by complaints, with social media users condemning the campaign’s sexist messaging and mocking the company for not realizing how women would perceive the ads.

    “It’s Mother’s Day, and you still want moms to do housework?” one user wrote on microblogging platform Weibo. “I suggest you run the campaign again on Father’s Day to make laundry easier for dad,” another posted.

    Users even began defacing the Blue Moon posters in their apartment buildings and posting photos of their work to the company. One photo shows a poster partially covered by a sticker with a handwritten slogan: “Housework isn’t a gift, men can also do laundry.” Another shows a poster with the new slogan: “Mom is not a nanny, housework is the responsibility of every family member.”

    By Monday, the topic was trending on Weibo, with a related hashtag amassing over 12 million views.

    Blue Moon responded to the controversy on Tuesday, releasing a statement stressing that the company “has always advocated that housework should be shared by the whole family.” But the message triggered yet more complaints, with some users arguing that the company had failed to make a wholehearted apology. The statement has since been deleted.

    On Wednesday, the company decided to take more drastic action. It announced that it was withdrawing the ad campaign and would run a competition to find a slogan for a replacement campaign. Customers were invited to submit suggestions via the social platform Xiaohongshu, with the winners receiving a 100,000 yuan ($13,800) prize.

    The 10 selected slogans were announced the following day. Since their release, some users have posted photos showing the new posters on display near their homes. The original slogans, silhouettes of women doing chores, and other controversial elements have all been replaced.

    However, the new posters have also faced some criticism, with users saying the new slogan “Machine wash, hand wash, supreme wash, no need for mom to wash by hand” still implies that women are responsible for doing the laundry.

    It’s unclear to what extent the fallout from the ad campaign will affect Blue Moon. Founded in 1992, the company’s laundry detergent was the most popular in China by market share from 2009 to 2021, but its performance has dipped during the past couple of years.

    Blue Moon is far from the only Chinese brand to be accused of running sexist ads. In 2022, the Shanghai-based coffee maker Banhetian received fierce backlash for a campaign using the slogan “Every working mother owes her child an apology.”

    Daobanxiang, a restaurant chain based in the eastern Anhui province, has also angered female customers by offering mothers who eat at their outlets a free apron and using the slogan “Mom, I’m hungry,” which many argued perpetuated the stereotype that women are responsible for feeding the family.

    Ads implying that new products designed to make household chores easier are a “gift” to women are increasingly becoming a subject of debate in China. Song Meijie, a researcher at Fujian Normal University’s School of Communication, commented that new technologies often simply cover up the degree to which women are overburdened by domestic labor.

    “Women’s perception of their role in the family is changing,” Sun Wei, a brand marketing consultant at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, told domestic media. “In the current era of egalitarianism, more young women believe that housework should be divided equally between both partners.”

    Contributions: Lü Xiaoxi.

    (Header image: Notes left in elevators show opposite opinions against the piece of advertisement. From Xiaohongshu)