Olivia Parker
Dec 7, 2018

Here's the 'purpose' Asia really wants brands to serve: Kantar

When well-meaning campaigns and initiatives filter down from global headquarters they can end up meaning little to local markets. A new Kantar survey explores the issues people really care about in the region.

A still from Waterschool, a film about an initiative by Swarovski to develop sustainable practices around water use in six countries including India and China.
A still from Waterschool, a film about an initiative by Swarovski to develop sustainable practices around water use in six countries including India and China.

90% of consumers surveyed by Kantar in Asia think brands should be getting involved in and acting on social issues as well as selling goods. Almost two thirds (60%, on average) agreed that such action would make them more likely to open their wallets.

In a survey of over 3,000 people and social-media analysis in nine Asian markets, Kantar’s new report, released today, also explores exactly which issues people care about, on what platforms these are being discussed and what people what brand involvement to look like, which comes down to five main requests: 

  1. Educate consumers about the issue
  2. Initiate and fund programmes to support the issue
  3. Fund the organisations directly involved in the issue
  4. Run campaigns to raise awareness
  5. Change business practices to support the issue.

But which issues to choose? One key finding is that there’s a discrepancy between the subjects people care about the most and the issues they talk about the most. So while a brand might think it advisable to get involved with a cause relating to climate change and gender, which according to the report are the two top issues discussed most in Asia, people across all ages and both genders say they care the most about two completely different issues: good health and wellbeing, and ending poverty.

Unpacking 'no poverty' and 'good health and wellbeing', the survey also found that they mean different things to different markets. For shoppers in Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, for example, ‘good health and wellbeing’ relates strongly to lifestyle issues such as fitness and healthy eating. In Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea, which are all markets that the report notes have been “recently urbanised”, mental health conditions like depression fall into this conversation. Vaccinations were more of a health hot topic in Taiwan and the Philippines, meanwhile, as both regions have faced controversies in this area.

‘No poverty’ also has nuanced meanings according to place, with this debate ranging across angles such as how to help local poor (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea) to better education (Malaysia and Thailand) and helping those fleeing from natural disasters (Indonesia, which this year alone has experienced both the Lombok earthquake and the Palu earthquake and tsunami).

Overall, the study found, people care first for the local issues that impact them, and second for the bigger global issues that seem further removed to them—a lesson for brands in prioritising local concerns.

Where the people are talkingand what they are doing

Kantar’s survey found that in Asia’s emerging markets, TV is the source by which most people first learn about social and environmental issues. Traditional media such as newspapers and radio play a smaller role now, with between a quarter and a third of people relying on these for updates.

While a third of those surveyed said they don’t like talking about social issues online at all, social media platforms are the next most common source of news after TV, with 85% of people in the region saying Facebook is the platform where they’d be most likely to discuss such topics. 61% say that the airing of issues on social media has given them more awareness about the details involved and a third have changed their habits as a consequence—but 32% also say they are fed up of seeing their social feeds being full of these issues.

The degree to which Asian residents will act on the things they care about varies widely by age and level of market development. Roughly two-thirds of those in emerging markets like Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines say they have shared posts or articles on subjects they feel strongly about, compared to just 29% of people in Australia and 36% in Singapore. People in India are the most likely to donate to a cause after seeing it on social media, with 42% saying they’d do this. Those in India are also the most likely (74%) of any Asian market to see brand engagement with social issues as "a trustworthy brand activity".

Quaker's #QuakerFeedAChild campaign, below, is cited by the report as one brand successfully helping address the issue of child poverty in India. One reason is down to its collaboration with a local charity, Smile Foundation, with whom Quaker worked on this initiative to serve meals to underprivileged children. "Partnerships are often integral to the success of these initiatives—they ensure the strategy is appropriate and the nuance is correct" says the report. 

The 43% segment of people who claim to be less concerned about issues and are less likely to have taken any action—and who believe brands should not be directly involved in social causes—are also most likely to live in more developed markets such as South Korea and Singapore, and be older, with 70% over 35.

“Consumers in developed markets tend to have been exposed to more sophisticated branding and marketing for a longer period of time, and are therefore more cynical than emerging markets where people may not have been exposed to the same level of commercialism,” explains Joy Lee, regional digital consultant for Kantar’s Insights Division. “This lens applies to whatever they are looking at online, so brands need to be conscious they are speaking to a much more discerning consumer in developed markets, even if they are telling a positive story. It’s notable that it’s an older demographic who are less likely to take action or be interested in purpose-driven brands; age may be a factor that is compounding the cynicism levels."

The small segment (12%) who say they will act offline on their beliefs, for example, by joining protests, signing petitions or writing to media outlets, and the slightly larger segment (27%) who are highly vocal for their causes on social media, are both more likely to be made up of younger people under 34, meanwhile. These are the groups who want brands to advocate for these causes, too, and will reward them with their loyalty. 

"Brands perceived as having a high positive impact on people’s lives have grown brand value 2.5 times more than brands with low perceived impact," says Lee. "Purpose-driven initiatives coupled with marketed storytelling improves ROI, however brands stand to lose out on growing their brand equity if they invest without a watertight comms plan to share their good work." 

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