It's time for brands to act on their purpose for the greater

Why having purpose-led marketing campaigns are good for business and the world

How does your organisation define its purpose?
Purpose is a brand’s reason for being. Its ‘why’. As such, it should inform decisions and give the business direction by sitting at the heart of all departments, including marketing. In 1960, professor, philanthropist, and former HP board member David Woodley Packard gave a speech to HP employees that helps to explain this concept and why it matters:

Purpose (which should last at least 100 years) should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies (which should change many times in 100 years). Whereas you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose; it’s like a guiding star on the horizon, forever pursued but never reached. Yet although purpose itself does not change, it does inspire change. The very fact that purpose can never be fully realised means that an organisation can never stop stimulating change and progress.

Here at distillery, we believe that businesses can and should make a positive difference in society, and that having a clear purpose at the heart of everything they do and say is key to making this happen. That’s why we help brands be their best selves with content that has substance – content that reflects a brand’s reason for being, not just their marketing priorities and gets their communities excited to walk the talk with them.

But don’t take our word for it. We partnered with strategic research agency Milieu to learn what people think, feel, and do when it comes to brand purpose, and whether this is in fact a key consideration for consumers. What did we find? Consumers in Southeast Asia actually care a lot about the values of their favourite brands.

As articulated by former VP at Alliance to End Plastic Waste Jessica Lee during our roundtable at Spikes Asia
2021, a sense of purpose is the key driver for how consumers are choosing what brands they want to
support, not price or product selection alone.

Similarly, for an increasing number of businesses and their employees, the pursuit of profit no longer feels satisfying enough as a reward for their hard work. People want more now – consumers and employees want
brands to take responsibility for what they put out into the world, and that includes content. Price, product
quality, and customer experience are important, but brand purpose can give a brand a sense of integrity, differentiating it from other similar brands. This extra commitment is what many people seek inside and outside an organisation.

Brand Purpose in a post-COVID world

It’s undeniable how different the world is today, post 2020. From social to economical issues, the pandemic has changed how we live. For this reason, consumers are becoming even more conscious about the way they expect brands to behave.

When Milieu ran the survey across Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, it found that 63% of people believe that it’s more important now than ever before for brands to stand for something. The highest percentage came from
Indonesia, with 71% of people saying they agree with that statement. The sentiment is followed by people in Malaysia, with 66% of people expecting brands to stand for something, while in metropolitan Singapore, 1 in 2 people surveyed felt the same.

According to a Marketing Week article, businesses that have a strong purpose and act upon it will not only survive but thrive in this climate. Sure, it may seem frivolous to think about “purpose” when revenue is taking a direct hit from the effects of the pandemic, but the more brands ignore it, the more they’ll suffer in the long run.

Every day we hear of brands talking about great social causes while falling short when it comes to taking action. Understandably, consumers are sceptical about about brands’ true intentions. Milieu found that 55% of Singaporean consumers believe that brands say one thing in terms of their values, but do something else. In Indonesia, however, this number jumps to 72%, showing the distrust consumers have when it comes to brand promises. Make no mistake: your customers can tell the difference between genuine social impact and mere clout-chasing.

It’s no wonder the word ‘purpose’ has fallen under great scrutiny recently when tied to marketing, and rightly so. Consumers are becoming belief-driven buyers who want brands to deliver on societal issues, not only on products and services. Just as they are ready to support companies whose purpose aligns with their own beliefs, they will also reject those that don’t.

When asked if survey respondents regularly reviewed their choice of brands based on whether they uphold their stated values, 72% and 73% of Malaysians and Indonesians respectively said they did, compared to only 35% of people in Singapore. What this means is that while major brands in the region are often headquartered in key cities like Singapore, it is also important to look into their other markets, which may require a different strategy to promote brand purpose.

In Indonesia, consumers were able to call out the brands that they felt put their money where their mouth is, and Danone AQUA stood out as one of the brands with a big stance on social and environmental issues.

Danone AQUA:
Leading a nationwide recycling campaign

Heeding to an urgent environmental call by mother nature to reduce plastic waste, heritage drinking water brand danone. AQUA in Indonesia pledged to reduce the amount of plastic going into the ocean by 70%, by the year 2025. The company made a long-term commitment starting from education in 20 major cities to changing their bottles to become 100% recyclable.

To meet this goal, it rallied the commitment of Indonesians to participate in the movement with the hashtag #BijakBerplastik (be plastic wise) to further spread awareness of the need to keep plastic out of the ocean. Even though the campaign was only launched in 2018, the brand has been preaching the same message since 2010, working with social enterprises devoted to Inclusive Plastic Collection in Indonesia.

Areas of social responsibility that matter to consumers
So we know that customers want brands to have a purpose. But what are they most concerned about? The research shows that in Southeast Asia, the idea of sustainable living and more specifically, taking action to reduce plastic waste often come up as a priority.

Last year, we helped the Alliance to End Plastic Waste develop a video to showcase the work they’ve achieved to the media and stakeholders in an engaging way. What distillery did simply amplified the work they have already been doing, but the true success of the organisation was the fact that it had a clear mission, and worked towards achieving that mission. The next step, of course, is to amplify the work they do and this is where distillery stepped in to help.

Focusing on good hygiene, not on specific products

Did you know that
something as simple as
hand washing regularly
can help prevent
600,000 child deaths
every year
respiratory infections
and diarrhoeal disease?

These are the world’s two leading causes of child mortality, which Unilever’s soap brand Lifebuoy aims to help prevent. The brand’s purpose is to help people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to improve their hygiene habits by making hygiene education and soap products more accessible to them.

Since launching its handwashing campaign in 2010, Lifebuoy has been on a mission that put social impact ahead of its own promotion: The brand even aired a public service announcement that reached one billion global households, urging people to wash their hands with soap, regardless of what brand of soap they choose.

As seen in this Lifebuoy campaign, brands don’t always have to sell themselves. Organisations that are genuine and sincere in their brand purpose and social cause will be recognised by consumers, and may even gain a few spokespeople for them along the way (for free).
Have you ever noticed how colourful social media gets every year around Pride month, when brands paint their logos in all the colours of the rainbow? But how many of these Pride-related promos are genuine attempts at supporting the LGBTQ+ community? And how many are examples of rainbow imagery being co-opted to benefit companies, groups, and individuals that are not doing their part to support LGBTQ+ causes?
Jumping on the bandwagon of whatever cause is picking up speed on social media is not the way to do purpose-led marketing. Colourful logos and a few hashtags may be symbolic gestures of allyship, but they have severe limitations: without action, this is just talk.

Poh Heng:
Promoting inclusivity as part of its DNA

In Asia, where talk around LGBTQ+ may still be a tabooed conversation, one heritage Singaporean brand, Poh Heng, made a bold statement during its 70th anniversary in 2018. With the tagline, “A Journey of Trust,” the homegrown jeweller won the hearts of many Singaporeans with its genuine and simple campaign showcasing black and white photographs of Singaporeans from all walks of life, including happy portraits of gay couples.
While subtle, the brand successfully put forth what they believed about inclusivity in a tasteful manner without having to wave a single flag.

Good for the planet is good for business

For more than 40 years, Patagonia has supported grassroots activists working to find solutions to the environmental crisis, engaging customers, local communities, and environmental groups on its digital platform to identify where urgent help is needed and take action quickly.

All while donating 1% of its sales to the preservation and restoration of natural environments, whether or not it is profitable.

“At 1% for the Planet, we state our purpose plainly: we exist to ensure that our planet and future generations thrive,”

says Patagonia of its campaign turned global movement.

At 2020’s MadFest, Patagonia’s Marketing Director EMEA, Alex Wellar, explained that these purpose-driven actions underpin all of Patagonia’s marketing work, showing that business as a profit-making enterprise can also be in the service of planetary health and social justice.

Google Cloud:
Taking action on
climate change

As the only major cloud provider to purchase enough renewable energy to cover all of its operations, Google Cloud is investing in communication initiatives that explain what the company’s commitment to sustainability means in practice, and encourage more businesses to also take steps towards a carbon-free future.

The purpose-led campaign follows three decades of climate action:

It was the first tech company to buy renewable energy at scale.

Google neutralised its entire legacy carbon emissions.

Google became the first major company in history to be carbon neutral.

it became the first major company to match its entire electricity consumption with renewable energy.

Google aims to operate 24/7 on 100% carbon-free energy while investing in helping key manufacturing regions to do the same and removing carbon from the atmosphere through science-based reforestation. All this action underpins some of the company’s key campaigns, as we know from first-hand experience in helping Google Cloud to bring them to life.


Google became the first major company in history to be carbon neutral.


It was the first tech company to buy renewable energy at scale.


it became the first major company to match its entire electricity consumption with renewable energy.


Google neutralised its entire legacy carbon emissions.


Google aims to operate 24/7 on 100% carbon-free energy while investing in helping key manufacturing regions to do the same and removing carbon from the atmosphere through science-based reforestation. All this action underpins some of the company’s key campaigns, as we know from first-hand experience in helping Google Cloud to bring them to life.

For eight years, we’ve translated Google’s complex technology use cases into human-led stories that explain how its customers use Google Cloud technology to advance their own businesses and serve their own customers and communities better.

This demands finding the sweet spot where we can champion their successes without boasting. Studies show that consumers are skeptical of corporate motivation, based on the assumption that when big corporations help with community projects or social causes, they are doing it to make themselves look good rather than to help people in need.

That’s why our priority is to narrate and amplify the cool things Google Cloud is doing by demonstrating the real-world impact of our clients’ actions over time, which we do through stories that focus on people and problem-solving, not on products.

7 tips for your brand to do good

How to say what you mean, and mean what you say

Remember: purpose-led campaigns are just as much about action as they are about communication. So let’s forget the word ‘advertising’ for a moment, and focus on creating two-way conversations that nurture deeper connections between brands and their audiences.

These conversations live in the sweet spot between your business goals, your audience’s interests, and your purpose.

Do the work internally before you push a message externally

2020 was a tough year for many – leading more people to increasingly rely on businesses, not just governments and NGOs, to solve societal problems. Businesses that are able to convey positive social missions can gain an upper hand, but according to Deloitte, they should start internally.

79% of global respondents are able to recall instances of brands positively responding during COVID-19. Customers are particularly taking note of brands that are increasing measures to protect their employees’ health and wellbeing, making donations to communities, and reducing executive paychecks.

Practice social listening

Navigating consumer expectations isn’t easy, but brands that seek a deep understanding of their customers’ values can factor in their willingness to contribute to the cause as they chart their own social responsibility course.

Nearly 6 in 10 global consumers surveyed in 2020 are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative impact to the planet. Among those who say sustainability is important for them, this jumps to 77%. They seek products and brands that align with their values, lifestyle, and health goals, and are willing to pay a premium for those that do.

Despite the widespread importance of sustainability and social responsibility, there are notable differences in shopper priorities across regions and countries. To cater to requirements that vary by geography, companies need to truly listen to their target audience to understand what’s most important to them in each local market.

Be creative and clear

When it comes to social responsibility, consumers are looking for brands to show them, not just tell them, what they’re doing. Purpose-driven consumers may be willing to hear a brand’s case for doing good, but their trust doesn’t come without proof. With sustainability front and centre for retail, for example, consumers do more than just check the list of ingredients on a label – they also want details about sourcing, how products are made and by whom, and how they are delivered.

“Brands today need to be even more authentic and real in articulating who they are,” said Claire Tan, Communications Strategist and Branding Consultant, at Spikes Asia 2021, “because as a consumer, I want to clearly understand: how is this brand helping me? We’re increasingly looking beyond the instant gratification of the product itself, and focusing on what brands are doing for their communities.”

Consumers today are always online and have at their fingertips unprecedented access to information about products and services, so brands that are omnipresent and match this need for information with effortless, creative, uncomplicated experiences, are ahead of the game.

Take a stance

While 90% of Gen Zers believe companies must act to help social and environmental issues, 75% will do research to see if a company is really being honest when it takes a stance. In other words: consumers don’t fall for insincere attempts to pull at heartstrings and it takes much more than hashtags and logos to connect and engage with them.

Consumers do, however, reward authenticity, strong leadership, and outspokenness. By standing up for something bigger than itself, its products, and its services, brands can tune into customers’ beliefs and take decisive action on social issues they both care about. This could recast customer relationships and help brands connect with customers and fans on a deeper level in the long run.

For brands that want to make a positive difference in the world but aren’t sure how, Octagon’s Regional Creative Director Lizi Hamer suggests seeking out governing bodies that are being set up globally for causes such as Black Lives Matter. Through them, organisations can step into a movement with guidance and accountability, and support social movements without having to necessarily make public statements to join the conversation.

The bottom line, she explains, is that “[organisations] don’t necessarily need to scream their cause through the rooftops, but they do need to take action. Because by being silent and not taking action, you’re almost being the oppressor,” says Lizi.

Be human

Involve your customers, employees, and the larger ecosystem of stakeholders to identify shared values and areas where your brand can make a positive difference in the world – and maintain constant and clear communication with them throughout the process. Be personal and up close.

Ask them for opinions and feedback. Engage your customers and fans until you all become partners, walking together towards the same purpose. Over time, they will effectively become partners of your brand, acting as influencers and advocates for the common good that you are enabling through your purpose-driven actions.

The time is now

COVID-19 has thrown much of our routine up in the air and forced us to reassess how we manage our daily lives. For guidance, we watch how others are responding, and this includes brands.

This means that brands and their management teams are being constantly tested live on air and asked to make a significant mark through genuine acts of value, all while trying to stay afloat and supporting their staff.

And yet, there are countless examples of large and smaller brands stepping up to the challenge to help people during this period, such as French luxury brand LVMH, owner of Louis Vuitton, which promptly activated its factories from making perfume to hand sanitiser to help supply hospitals in France when COVID-19 hit the country.

Another example is Intern Magazine, which hosted a weekly Q&A called Extracurricular, aimed at final year creative students who are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their degree projects and future career prospects.

The pressure has been on for brands to clarify their purpose in peoples’ lives. Against this backdrop, in APAC, consumers are buying on belief: 69% choose to switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. Globally, 67% of people agree that it has become more important than ever that the brands they choose make a positive contribution to society, beyond just providing a good service or product.

So the opportunity remains for brands’ real purpose to
emerge. What’s yours?

Tell us your ‘why’ by getting in touch with our team. Let’s talk about bringing your purpose to life with campaigns that work hard for your brand and the world.

Commissioned by:
Powered by:

The Importance of
Brand and Social Purpose
in SouthEast Asia

Summary of research conducted across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to understand consumers perceptions on brand purpose, and how a businesses actions and values on societal issues impacts purchasing habits.

Key takeouts:

Now is the time to stand up and act. After everything that has happened in the world over the past 18 months, consumers will positively respond to brands that align to their values and help societal causes.

Brands looking to build a deeper connection with consumers in Indonesia and Malaysia should integrate a stronger purpose into their business and marketing strategy to cut through, more so than in Singapore.

Brands that have a social purpose should be bold enough to show it, and stand up for what they believe is right to gain consumers’ respect and support.

About this research:

The online research was commissioned by distillery, a creative content studio based in Singapore. It was carried out by Milieu Insight, a Singapore-headquartered consumer research firm. The poll included n=1,500 (500 per market) and is representative of the online adult population, aged 16 and above. Responses were collected the week of 21st April 2021, and the margin of error is +/-4% with a 95% confidence level. For more information, please email Or visit to learn more about brands who are doing this well