'Sex' sells well in Asia

HBO show's aura a match for marketers

Friday, September 20, 2002

— It's in the running for several Emmys on Sunday. But "Sex and the City" has long been on a winning streak with viewers � and not only in the United States.

In Asia, the HBO comedy series is a smash hit among young professionals, despite (or maybe thanks to) the fact that it goes against the region's traditional ideas of womanhood. And, for retailers and fashion houses, it has become a golden marketing tool to lure the show's affluent audience.

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AP Photo

Filipinos attend a cocktail party during the promotional run of a popular HBO series "Sex and the City" at an upscale mall in suburban Makati, Philippines. In recent weeks, HBO has teamed with fashion and cosmetic companies in Bangkok and Manila to organize a series of fashion shows, targeting the show's affluent female audience.

HBO claims a modest viewership of 4 million in 19 Asian countries and gives no figures for the number of people who watch "Sex and the City."

But the companies riding on the back of the show's popularity realize that its viewers are a powerful segment of consumers � well-to-do, single, professional women with spare cash to spend on themselves, just like the show's heroines.

During the just-completed season, HBO teamed with fashion and cosmetic companies in Bangkok and Manila to organize a series of fashion shows. "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker's image was plastered across Bangkok billboards and buses.

In Taiwan, 33-year-old communications consultant Lisa Chiu said "Sex and the City" gives her friends an excuse to chat about sex and their relationships � subjects they are usually too shy to bring up on their own.

She said she closely watches the fashion tastes of Parker's Carrie Bradshaw: "I always thought that I would never wear floral-patterned skirts. I like solids, but now when I'm in a Carrie Bradshaw mood, I'll wear them."

Videos of the show have topped the charts in Hong Kong.

The show has been used as a marketing stratagem in Hong Kong, too, where HBO worked with Christian Dior and the makers of Moet & Chandon champagne and Hennessy cognac for a party.

In Manila, HBO and a telecommunications company offered cell phone customers "Sex and the City" updates, trivia and contests by cell phone text messaging.

A mall in Manila had a three-day shopping event with stores giving discounts on shoes, bags and lingerie. And a photo exhibit by a local fashion photographer featured four models representing the series' characters.

Although Asian women may be following the unfolding lives of the "Sex and the City" characters, the show's sexual content may be too much for most of viewers.

"I like the show, but I think it'll be hard for Hong Kong Chinese to accept the characters' lifestyles, with so many boyfriends and one-night stands," said Vivian Mak, a former Hong Kong fashion magazine editor and now a public relations agent.

The show is banned in Singapore and relegated to a late-night slot in Muslim-dominated Malaysia and Indonesia.

But that hasn't prevented its popularity from spreading in Singapore, a strictly run, rich city-state with a high number of single working women.

Singaporeans are ordering DVDs and videos of the show online from Amazon and taking delivery by mail.