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Global vs. local - at Millward Brown


I was at Millward Brown a few weeks ago, participating at a discussion moderated by Andy Truslove, who asked us (Richard Swaab from AMV, James Eadie from Coke, Dr. Val Curtis from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and me), "whether international advertising works most effectively with one central global campaign or whether advertising should be targeted towards particular regions or cultures".

I thought that we had a really good debate, without really answering the question. Here are my random notes:

*When we talk about global brands, we are talking about  Western brands (born in the US, UK, France, Germany that are exploiting the opportunities in the East (= Asia and CEE) and South (LATAM).

*The first wave of expansion of global brands that culminated in the 1970's  and 1980's,  consisted of American brands such as Levi’s or Coke, that is, brands based on the mythology and image of America and tied up with America's pop culture.

*Since the Berlin Wall came down, the world has become one world (in theory) and key Western manufacturers started to develop global brands, exploiting opportunities in the East. (Even conservative manufacturers such as Wrigley or Masterfoods were suddenly looking at global needstate and at the way how to make their brands work across markets).

* The new generation of global, Western brands (late 90's until now) was built on broader positioning (against the earlier, more narrow, functional "American" positioning). These brands have been built on "pieces of human truth" and  higher order human needs. Their territories are bigger and rewarding and they (in most cases) work across borders, e.g. Dove's "Real beauty," Coke's "Optimism and connectivity," Omo's "Dirt is good", Apple"s "helping everybody to express their creativity".

*The broad brand territories are rewarding but they entail the danger of "virtual consumption", i.e.  the "human truths" resonate with people, people are being entertained BUT without giving the brand an emotional ownership of the "truth" or an insight...

*The feverish effort to generate new "consumer insights"  doesn't help - we often grow insights away from brands by being focused on consumer needs only and forgetting about the needs of brands.

*Brands cannot pick and choose which piece of human truth to own. To develop an ownable territory takes effort, time and consistency. Coke owns the territory of " optimism and connectivity" successfully, because they have been dominant and consistent in this territory for a long time (going back at least to the post-WWII optimism in the US and Europe, to which Coke was attached).

*If a brand truly owns a broad territory, it can then move beyond executional uniformity. Every piece of communication will be recognized as belonging to the heart of the brand (without the need for uniformity or excessive use of literal brand cues).

* These broad brand territories often challenge existing stereotypes. We talked about the difficulties in communicating the counter-cultural messages to people in developing markets who haven’t had the time and resources to experience the stereotypes that we are trying to challenge (i.e. the "beauty" stereotypes that Dove is challenging). In this case, executions need to be adjusted in order to remain aspirational.

*The structures of the different companies that market global brands are similar: there are global centres that generate strategy and global campaigns and the local markets that generate cash. The relationship between the centre and the local markets is often difficult but could work well if the locals stop endlessly challenging (global strategy, campaigns...) and start concentrating their effort on activating in stores, and if the global centres listen to the local markets and recognize great local ideas with the potential to travel (and that requires humility)

*For instance, the 2006 World Cup advertisement for Coke was developed in Argentina, recognized as outstanding by the centre and then run in all countries.  Here is a Chinese version of it:

* Market research plays an important (and often problematic) role in the global vs. local (and regional) split. It is being used as weapon by both side to promote arguments and counter-arguments. Often, what seems to be more important than the research findings (which are often relative and open to interpretation) is the physical getting together and the bonding (local, regional, global) over the findings.

*We touched on the "global sources" of creativity (in advertising). There are many places with great talent but the two key global centers when it comes to creativity seem to be London and Buenos Aires, i.e. the British use of humour (Richard said that humour is the closest the British can get to any real emotion) and the visual and poetic Argentinian style:

So, one global campaign or a few ads targeted to key markets? It depends.
What does it depend on? The region (Is it the Czech Republic we are talking about or China?), the budget, the category, the brand and on the task...