Intel China Faces Backlash after Removing Female Standup Comedian from Marketing Campaign

Global semiconductor giant Intel defended its decision to take down an advertisement featuring Chinese standup comedian Yang Li over the past weekend after Internet users questioning the company’s values and beliefs.

“Intel has a taste for laptops that is higher than my taste for men,” said the ad, which was posted on the company’s social media last Thursday but was later removed on Sunday after receiving male Internet users’ complaints.

Chinese state media Global Times reported it received a response from Intel reiterating the company’s commitment to recognize and value diversity: “Diversity and inclusion is a core pillar of Intel’s culture. We fully recognize and value the diverse world we live in, and we are committed to creating an inclusive workplace and social environment with our stakeholders.”

Yang Li is known for her satirical jokes on gender inequalities and is an active critic of gender issues in China. She often makes fun of men who judge women over their age, appearance and speaks against discrimination women face in China. Yang’s most well-known punchline, “Some men are so mediocre, yet they are so confident,” remains popular among progressives.

However, some conservative groups argue that the same line creates biases against men. In December 2020, anti-feminist groups called their supporters to flood China’s media regulator authorities with complaints to have Yang censored on the Chinese Internet.

Intel’s deleted advertisement attracted thousands of comments on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, with misogynistic comments such as “women do not know anything about computers” and “women won’t buy your CPUs.” Internet trolls also posted images of receipts and computers powered by Intel’s major competitor AMD to signal their discontent.

But by trying to placate conservatives and Internet trolls, Intel China ended up offending its progressive consumers. SupChina reported that hundreds of women targeted the American tech giant’s Twitter and Instagram accounts to express their concerns about the company’s decision. Under Intel’s Instagram posts promoting Women’s History Month, Internet users called out the company for giving in to sexists and anti-women groups.

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Intel‘s public relations disaster represents one of the struggles that international corporations face in China: their headquarters in North America or Europe actively participated in marketing campaigns promoting gender equality, racial justice, and other progressive policies such as caring for the environment. But their operations in China and the East Asian region are often trying to appeal to consumers with vastly different views and values. Positive themes in North America and Europe could be interpreted as offensive in East Asian countries, including China.

China has issues in preserving gender equality, and it is evident that women face systemic discrimination and biases in Chinese society. Those biases exist in every part of people’s life, including on university campuses. Vice recently reported on the sexist tradition in Chinese universities celebrating International Women’s Day. With sexual slurs, pun jokes, and unwelcoming statements, Chinese university administrations sometimes turned a day commemorating women’s fight for rights and equality into an opportunity to openly harass women.

The country has not had a female political leader since 1949. None of the members from the 7-people politburo standing committee are women. And only 1 out of the 25 politburo members is a woman. China still has a number of sexist social policies against women in place: women have a mandatory retirement age of 50 or 55, 5 to 10 years earlier than the mandatory retirement age for men. Issues such as lack of protection for employees returning from maternity leaves and the need to take care of their children also put Chinese women at further disadvantages in their career development.

In addition to those systemic challenges, part of society often views women as inferior and incompetent. A significant number of Chinese families attempt to choose the gender of their newborn babies. Consequently, the country has significantly more men than women, with the gap increasing over the years.

Chinese authorities have yet to take significant measures to address these disparities with women often having to choose between family or their careers. These issues are expected to get worse as China continues to struggle with low birth rates due to the lack of family-friendly economic and social policies.

Intel is not the only company that got caught in controversies. Earlier in 2020, Nike faced criticism in Japan over its advertisements addressing the existing bullying and racism issues in the country. Unlike Intel, Nike stood by its advertising and did not remove the content despite seeing a significant backlash.

As for Intel, removing an advertisement featuring a progressive standup comedian from its social media platform clearly shows the company is complacent to those ignoring the lack of gender equality in China. The decision ended up offended both conservative and progressive consumers in just a few days. Intel China’s public relations team has created significant damage to the corporate image with inconsistent messages, impulsive choices, and failed attempts to appease anti-feminism groups and Internet trolls.