Retail in Asia


Opinion: The path to retail triumph in Asia’s progressive markets? Embracing purpose

Source: Mountain Dew/BBDO Asia

In the ever-evolving world of retail, brand purpose stands tall as a catalyst for transformative change in the diverse and dynamic landscape of Asia.

As consumer expectations continue to evolve, driven by values and social consciousness, purpose-driven marketing has taken centre stage, offering brands the opportunity to connect with their audience on a profound level.

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Consumers today are seeking brands that align with their values and make a positive impact on the world. Purpose-driven marketing, digital transformation, personalisation and social responsibility are emerging as essential strategies for retailers to thrive in this dynamic market. These trends have not only gained momentum but have also led us to some remarkable business achievements along the way.

The rise of purpose-driven marketing

Asian consumers no longer settle for products to meet a need. They desire brands that resonate with their values and contribute to society.

Our study highlights that 44 percent of Asian consumers like brands that do good for society or the planet, and 40 percent like brands they believe support the issues they care about, surpassing the influence of celebrity endorsements (18 percent). Purposeful brands not only inspire positive attitudes but also drive actual purchasing behaviour, with 47 percent of Asian consumers having bought brands that stood for a purpose in the last three months.

P&G India’s Ariel stands as a powerful example of the transformative impact of purpose-driven marketing, forging deep connections with consumers and driving significant business growth. Since the launch of their iconic campaign #SharetheLoad in 2015, Ariel has been a driving force for gender equality within households, challenging conventional gender roles, and sparking countless conversations about equal distribution of household chores. By advocating for men to share the load, Ariel India transcended conventional marketing, becoming a catalyst for positive change in society. In 2015, 79 percent of men in the country believed that laundry was solely a woman’s job, but today this figure has fallen by 26 percent – thanks in large part to the powerful messaging from Ariel.

Source: Ariel/BBDO Asia

The impact has been truly transformative, extending beyond the acquisition of 44 million new users since the launch, with last year’s film boosting sales by 29 percent.

The lower a country’s GDP per capita, the stronger consumers want brands to take social responsibility

We have uncovered a compelling paradox: In developing markets such as the Philippines, India, and Thailand, the longing for meaningful brand purpose is most profound.

Consumers in these regions seek out brands that actively address societal gaps, which their governments may struggle to effectively handle – prompting them to look to the private sector to address societal issues. We call this the ‘Brand Purpose Paradox’, which essentially means: the lower the GDP per capita of a country, the stronger consumers want brands to stand for a societal purpose.

For example, in the Philippines, a nation grappling with the challenges of climate change, the study revealed that 20 percent of its people are more likely than the average Asian to seek brands that champion environmental causes. This trend highlights the growing importance of social responsibility in retail, where consumers are increasingly drawn to purpose-driven brands that make a positive impact on society and the environment.

Source: Mountain Dew/BBDO Asia

An inspiring illustration of purpose-driven marketing is seen in Mountain Dew’s efforts in the Philippines. Through their #ReDew campaign, launched last year, they effectively drew attention to the devastating impact of Typhoon Rai on the island of Siargao. This purpose-driven approach not only strengthened the brand’s connection with the emergent and aspirational youth surfing culture but also resonated deeply with millions of Filipinos.

In emerging Asia, income inequality is a prevalent issue. Local consumers expect brands not only to provide affordable products and services but also to contribute to community and social development. In India, consumers have a heightened desire for brands to support government initiatives, 40 percent more than the rest of Asia.

In India, Ralco’s #NoPressureDelivery campaign highlighted the safety and well-being of motorcycle delivery riders, capturing the hearts of marginalised consumers and the broader market alike. The campaign’s purpose-driven approach raised awareness, earning over 47 million views, but even more impressively, Zomato, India’s biggest food delivery service, took notice and implemented their first pilot of NoPressureDelivery, adding to the campaign’s success in driving change and influencing the industry.

Mercedes-Benz Thailand’s audacious ‘The Reinvention Of Pretty’ campaign challenged the objectification of women during auto shows, a pressing issue within the automotive industry in not just Thailand but also Asia, sparking a powerful dialogue and resonating with audiences. The impact was remarkable, sparking a meaningful dialogue and resonating with audiences on a deeper level, gaining over 10 million video views in less than three days. Mercedes-Benz saw a significant boost in car sales (a 12.5 percent increase compare to the year before). A great example that shows how purpose can fuel positive change and redefine an industry’s narrative, whilst helping business grow.

Source: Mercedes-Benz/BBDO Asia

Embracing Gen Z’s progressive voices

Young Asian consumers, especially those under 25, are exhibiting progressive voices on social issues like LGBT+ acceptance and advocacy. Brands that fail to align with these social purposes risk losing relevance among this influential consumer segment. For these consumers, brand purpose goes beyond just a marketing strategy; it becomes a reflection of their identity and values. As Gen Z consumers come of age, and their spending power grows, purpose-driven marketing will become essential for retailers to secure their place in this evolving market. Forward-thinking brands that embrace and advocate for social issues important to their customers can forge deeper connections and gain social credibility.

Brands have a significant opportunity to connect with consumers by not only aligning with their beliefs but also advocating for social justice and change. This growing trend opens avenues for brands to support important causes such as LGBTQ rights and inequality, resonating deeply with Thai consumers who value inclusivity and progressive values.

One case study that exemplifies this is the Johnson’s Baby Thailand’s ‘The Other Mother’s Day’ campaign. A campaign that challenged traditional notions of motherhood, breaking stereotypes and demonstrating that anyone can be a mother, regardless of income level, gender or appearance. By embracing a broader definition of motherhood, the campaign also played a pivotal role in reshaping cultural norms and fostering a more inclusive society.

Source: Johnson & Johnson/BBDO Asia

Striking a balance between purpose and practicality

The importance of local culture and values is still strong in Asia, even as consumers become more globalised. While Asian consumers appreciate brands with purpose messaging, it is essential to strike a balance with the practical and rational aspects of the brand.

Marketers should avoid developing purpose narratives that are too abstract or disconnected from the brand’s core offerings. Brands need to become allies, advocating new ideas and bridging infrastructure gaps to drive meaningful impact. Purpose-driven initiatives exemplify the transformative power of brand purpose, making a lasting impact on consumers and society.

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As retailers seek to thrive in this dynamic market, embracing purpose-driven strategies that resonate with consumers’ values and aspirations is vital. By authentically aligning with meaningful causes, retailers can build lasting connections with their audience while contributing to positive change in society.

In the quest for success, purpose-driven retail is the compass that guides retailers to navigate a rapidly changing world, creating a brighter and more sustainable future for all.

About the author

Hans Lopez-Vito is the chief operating officer of BBDO Asia, which recently released Brand Purpose in Asia, a study featuring insights into the effectiveness of purpose-driven marketing in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and India.