Cancel culture more rampant in Asian consumers who disagree with your brand values

Majority of consumers (76%) globally will act against brands whose purpose, values or behaviours they disagree with, by no longer purchasing from it. They will also switch to a competitor or discourage others from buying or supporting it.

According to the 2020 Zeno Strength of Purpose Study which surveyed more than 8,000 individuals across eight markets, consumers in Singapore (89%), Malaysia (91%) and China (92%) were more likely to act against brands they disagreed with compared to those in Canada, France, US and the UK. In the West, the study found that consumers were slightly more forgiving of brands when they disappointed.

The study termed this as “cancel culture” and such behaviour appears strongest among Gen Zs and Millennials. About 88% of Gen Z and 85% of Millennials were more likely to act negatively towards a brand they disagreed with. Primary actions included sharing their opinions with family and friends, whereas Boomers and Matures were more likely to act with their wallets, saying they would stop buying from the brand altogether, the study said.

The younger generation is also most likely to champion on behalf of brands with a strong purpose, with 92% of Gen Zs and 90% of Millennials indicating they would act in support of a purposeful brand. This was at least 10 percentage points higher than other generations surveyed. Also, 87% of Gen Zs and 84% of Millennials state that it is the CEO, founder or owner’s responsibility to drive a brand’s purpose, which is about six to three percentage points higher than all respondents. Majority of these two groups (70%) also feel a brand should have a purpose they personally believe in, which is 22 percentage points higher than Boomers and Matures.

On the other hand, consumers were four times more likely to purchase from the brand and six times more likely to defend that brand at a challenging moment. Also, they are four and a half times more likely to champion the brand to friends and family, and four times more likely to trust the brand.

In particular, consumers in Singapore, Malaysia and India were most likely to buy from a brand with a strong purpose.

Meanwhile, France and the UK emerged as countries most likely to trust, champion and defend a brand with a strong purpose. According to the study, 82% of consumers took action to support a company or a brand when they believed in its purpose, by sharing positive opinions of that brand with others, encouraging others to support or buy it, or start to buy from the brand themselves.

Eight key attributes of purposeful brands

In Asia, consumers rated making “products and services that reflect the needs of people today” as the top element of a purposeful brand. In North America and Europe, respondents ranked “fair treatment of employees” as the number one element of a purposeful brand. The study also uncovered eight key attributes of purposeful brands:

  • Fair treatment of all employees
  • Products or services that reflect the needs of people today
  • Ethical and sustainable business practices
  • Support for important social causes
  • Creation of new job opportunities
  • Diverse and inclusive culture
  • Issue advocacy
  • Strong set of values

The purpose paradox

Consumers have also raised the bar and are looking to companies to advance progress on important issues within and outside of their operational footprint. Most global consumers (94%) said it is important that the companies they engage with have a strong purpose. However, the study said a significant gap exists as only 37% believe companies today actually do. Moreover, 83% of consumers surveyed globally said companies should only earn a profit if they have a positive impact, implying consumers have developed an expectation for brands and companies to have a higher calling beyond earning profits and rewarding shareholders.

Alison DaSilva, MD, purpose and impact at Zeno Group, said the data proves that consumers expect companies to have a more meaningful reason for buying and are making decisions about what to buy and where to work with an eye toward supporting those that share their values. Yet, companies are leaving equity and opportunity on the table as the majority of consumers do not believe companies today have a clear and strong purpose.

"It has never been more important for companies to not only articulate their purpose, but to consistently demonstrate that purpose in how they operate, support issues and engage with all stakeholders," she said. She added that when it comes to Gen Zs, the stakes for brands could not be higher, as many of these young people are in fact their own brands. Moreover, they expect brands to live their purpose with action and to responsibly and consistently wield their economic and social power for good.

"Gen Z’s number one ambition is to build a better world through the strength of collective action. Those brands that do not put authentic and actionable purpose at their core risk losing one of the most influential youth generations on the planet," she added.