Daikin, the Japanese multinational air-conditioning manufacturer, has been running a promotional campaign in Hong Kong that declares in Cantonese: “choosing an AC is like choosing a wife.”

The ads – which finished their run at the beginning of this month – could be spotted in MTR stations as billboards, as well as in digital form in social media promos and banners. It depicts local cartoon character McDull at home with an air-conditioning unit mounted on the wall. Colourful writing above it states: “Be pretty, fit, durable, cost effective, still and quiet.” At the bottom, the literal translation reads: “The selection criteria for choosing an air conditioner is same as choosing a wife.”

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Photo: Facebook screenshot.

The ad, which caused a furore amongst university students in particular, highlights sexist and demeaning views that remain pervasive in Hong Kong. Rudra Someshwar, a student at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, sent a complaint to Daikin, saying it was “rather appalling how you have compared buying an A.C. to getting a wife.”

“This is highly disrespectful to women and many of my friends, including myself, found it very offensive. And the use of cartoons implies that the children of Hong Kong will also read this and these are honestly not the kind of morals or values that children should be taught. Definitely not in 2018,” she went on to say.

A lack of regulation against sexist or gender specific advertising in Hong Kong results in advertising that is consistently demeaning to women, from fashion advertisements that put men in powerful leadership roles and women in domestic or subordinate positions, to thin women in provocative poses for weight loss products on billboards.

In Daikin’s case, the offence is multi-pronged: first, by likening a woman to an inanimate household appliance; second in implying women should be the ones ‘chosen’ by men for marriage in as straightforward a manner as one might settle on said appliance; thirdly by suggesting marriage ‘criteria’ are traits like being pretty, fit, cost effective, still and quiet, and fourthly in portraying all of this through a cartoon – and a cartoon that is known and loved in particular by children.

The campaign bears similarities to an Audi ad that caused outrage in the Chinese market– social media users accused the ad of being “sexist” and “utterly inappropriate.” The Chinese ad shows a groom’s mother inspecting her son’s bride at the alter as if she were a vehicle. The ad concludes with an Audi driving down a highway, and a voice-over saying: “an important decision must be made carefully.”

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The advertisement prompted such inflammation that some called for a boycott of Audi in China – one of the carmaker’s largest markets. The luxury German automaker soon after apologised in a statement that said it “deeply regrets” the ad.

Progress of the same kind has not been observed so far in Hong Kong–Daikin’s response to the students’ concerns was: “Thank you for your valuable comment. We will seriously consider this issue in our next campaign.”

I also reached out for comment. Their response was also, “Thank you for your valuable comment. We will seriously consider this issue in our next campaign.” With an added: “The McDull campaign was now over [sic].”

A male student at Polytechnic University echoed the thoughts of many in saying this is not good enough, and that brands can no longer get away with these type of damaging messages. Kevin Chu took particular issue with the collaboration with McDull, pointing out that using the character portrays a target audience who will largely be children and young adults, making him “truly afraid that this poster will send such wrong messages.”

daikin air conditioning

“Kids may not have the ability to judge whether something is morally right or wrong–they may just believe in what a cartoon character says. Hence, this poster is highly detrimental to our society as sexism is prone to be carried on by our next generation,” Chu observed.

His gender, he said in a comment that he later sent to Daikin, doesn’t absolve him from the responsibility to act, simply because he is not directly affected: “I seldom encounter gender inequality as a guy though I do notice that the world has been an unfair place for women. Gender equality will not be achieved in a day, a month or a year, but we can get closer and closer to it day by day.”

Keshia Hannam

Keshia Hannam

Keshia is the co-founder of Camel Assembly–an international community of creative female leaders–and a Hong Kong born and based writer. She contributes to platforms like Fortune, Forbes, CNN, Huffington Post, South China Morning Post, Tatler and Hong Kong Free Press, amongst others.