Happy Sisterhood Day -- And Why Brands Are Celebrating in China

Because of the One-Child Policy, Friendships Are Extra Important

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In a Chinese digital campaign for Baileys, two real-life best friends – a celebrity and her manager -- describe a big fight in their past. The manager backed down first, writing a text message: "I really love you, do you love me?" That's sisterhood, one of the women explains: Being there for each other despite it all.

In China, sisterhood is in the zeitgeist. Baileys and Adidas, both strong performers in China, are tapping into the concept with campaigns that use the reassuring framework of friendship to promote trends that are still new for many women in China -- drinking alcohol and working out.

There's a reason why there's something unique about women's friendships in China. "Most of the target consumers were born in the time of the one-child policy, and most of them … grew up without the company of a sister," said Jennifer Pan, Baileys brand director in China.

So friends fill that role and offer support at a time when rapid changes in China are bringing "a lot of opportunities, but also challenges and pressures," Ms. Pan said.

The Baileys digital campaign from BBH China, with local agency NIM Digital as a partner, offered short videos – intimate and rather sentimental in tone -- about three pairs of real-life best friends.

The brand also invited women to share their own stories of friendship on a microblogging site, Weibo. It proclaimed April 17 a day to celebrate sisterhood, because the date 4/17 sounds similar to "I swear to be together" in Mandarin, Ms. Pan said. "We want to have a special day Baileys can own," she said.

At a live marketing event last week in Shanghai, young guests sipped Baileys and nibbled at cupcakes. A dance troupe performed to a medley including ABBA's "Mamma Mia" (but sung in Chinese), and the six women from the digital campaign bantered with the host.

Ziggy Zhang, 31, was invited after buying a Baileys gift set online for her best friend since middle school, and they attended together. Baileys is "sweet and creamy and not that strong," as Ms. Zhang put it. BBH called it an "entry-level drink."

"There wasn't that culture of women drinking before, but it's becoming part of the idea of the successful cosmopolitan career woman in Shanghai and Beijing – going out and knowing what to drink," said Finnian O'Neill, head of account management at BBH China.

Baileys sales were up 30% in greater China in 2013. Meanwhile, more macho liquors (such as cognac) have seen sales plummet in the country lately amid a government campaign to crack down on extravagant banquets and gift-giving by public officials.

For Adidas, its strategy for reaching women helped push sales in greater China up 7% on a currency-neutral basis in 2013.

A new Adidas integrated campaign from TBWA Shanghai depicts exercise as edgy and fashionable, something fun to do on a Friday night out with the girlfriends.

"While women in the West exercise and play sports to get a good workout and are focused more on performance, our research showed that girls in China saw fitness and exercise as a place where they can also socialize with their friends," said Colin Currie, managing director of Adidas Group in greater China, in an email.

Adidas, like Baileys, believes the one-child policy has had an impact on women's relationships. "Friendship offers women a sister-like relationship where they can share their dreams and passions," Mr. Currie said.

Adidas' latest effort follows up on an "all in for my girls" campaign from last year featuring Taiwanese pop star Hebe. The new campaign, "TGIF," shows women racing out of the office on Friday to work out together. At the ad's close, a runner looks right at the camera and says, "These are my best friends – what about yours?"