Video credit: Grey Group Malaysia

The phrase – Strong is Beautiful – is synonymous and highly associated with Pantene. After all, it used the same catchphrase for the past 10 years. Even in Malaysia, that line has been used and localised in all major languages. Whenever someone sees ‘Strong is Beautiful’, they will immediately think of the Pantene brand.

With trends now becoming more inclusive and culturally relevant, specifically those that focus on empowering women, Pantene knew that it was important to identify local cultural nuances in order for its global campaign to hit the right note.

In following US and European campaigns, which is more about championing inner strength, Pantene Malaysia wanted to diverge from its product-centric focuses and be more about supporting the next generation of strong women.


Despite being famous and synonymous with shampoo products, Pantene Malaysia felt it is high time to expand its role in empowering women. In using the tagline – Strong is Beautiful – a fresh take on the campaign was born and executed across Astro multiple platforms. The Malaysian insult, Wanita Besi (iron lady) is a local slur to defeminise Malaysian women, this was used to spark a national conversation on social inequality of women in sport turning the insult into a symbol of strength and empowerment to encourage girls to stay in sport.


There is current lack of awareness for women to participate in sports in Malaysia – be it competitive, health, or as a casual activity. Worse yet, there are no inspirational or motivational platforms that encourage the target audience – at various ages – to participate or stay in sports. Pantene made it a priority to change this by using its tagline as an empowering call-to-action.

Strategic Fit

For Pantene Malaysia, it was about creating a localised interpretation of the global brand platform “Strong is Beautiful’ that would resonate with emotional side of the platform and enter popular culture. This would then spread positive influence over a brand’s potential buyer to increase sales and value share.

To make ‘Strong is Beautiful’ truly meaningful, it has to challenge the cultural perceptions that are holding women back from achieving their true potential. Astro created content strategically for each touchpoint to spark dialogues and debates to elevate the issue.  “Wanita Besi” has a potential double meaning – just because it is used in a negative context, ‘Iron Lady’ could also be interpreted as a point of pride and strength. Dramatizing this tension would stir controversy, create conversations and open the dialogue to change.

Content Strategy

All media assets have been considered for the entire campaign – TV, print media, retail, social, digital, and mobile. While women are the primary target audience, the critical focus will be on mothers of daughters. Using the key message – STAY STRONG, STAY BEAUTIFUL, STAY IN SPORTS –#WANITABESI – Pantene Malaysia wants to widen the positive impact this campaign is striving to create.

To turn the meaning of ‘Wanita Besi’ on its head and give it a new positive meaning, multiple strategic and tactical initiatives were put in place that will significantly change how Malaysians interpret or react to its infamous tagline.

It kicked off with an Astro Awani feature on National Gymnast, Farah Ann telling her own story of WanitaBesi – overcoming cyber bullying on a nationwide scandal over how she dressed during the 2015 SEA GAMES. This sparked a national debate on the importance of women in sports as Yuna, our national singing treasure provided her take on the issue. To create more awareness and talkability, AWANI then launched a poll on its social media and website and report the finding on its prime news, AWANI 745 as part of the special report series.This set as the rebranding platform for sporting public figures, celebrities and influencers identified by Astro to carry the positive messaging forward.

Beyond producing positive context narratives that directly address and call-out the negative materials, critical to this campaign are the two short films that were produced and shown on-air via Astro channels, Astro retail and pop-up stores, and interactive media. The films narrate the dramatic life stories of Malaysian women athletes and how they challenged the norm and overcame various adversities to become tough, focused, and driven. From Farah Ann’s story of how she is discouraged from gymnastics due to her leotard, Nur Suryani’s story of inspiration where she participated in the Olympics at 8 months pregnant, Linora whom has to fight body image perceptions, and Adeline whom had to fight bullying and stereotype, we were able to resonate through local stories of empowerment. In fact, all of them have rebranded themselves as #WANITABESI. This led to a special episode of Agenda AWANI in a forum setting with Minister of Youth and Sports, Syed Saddiq and Farah Ann to have a discussion on the issues for endorsement.

Other major aspects of this campaign include making 100,000 golden ribbons as a badge of honour for people to rally behind. These are all bundled in Pantene packs and freely distributed at schools as well as AEON, TESCO and GIANT stores nationwide. Any women wearing the ribbon when they visit Fitness First received free access throughout the month of March, enabling access to sports for women.


Campaign exposure

  • Wanita Besi was trending #1 on Twitter with 345k tweets
  • 16 million social reach
  • 268 million digital impressions
  • Over 7 million views of films on YouTube

Positive National Engagement, a PR Success

Farah Ann was featured in multiple interviews across national media, endorsing the campaign and driving conversation. Including 9 separate interviews across the National news networks.

Every Malaysian (32mil) both males and females would have been exposed to the communication for 16.4 times during the 1month period. And for female audiences 33 times. This ensures that they are empowered every day in the month of World Women’s Day to be strong.

Ministerial Backing

The entire campaign became so viral, even Malaysia’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, officially endorsed the campaign on Astro Awani.