Archives For Buenos Aires

The growing tension between global brands and their local audiences.

Globalisation means different things to different brands. McDonalds has a long-held strategy of standardising the flavour profile of its products, so that your first bite of a Big Mac in Beijing will be essentially the same as in Buenos Aires. Partly, that’s a function of quality control and standardisation of sourcing and production methods, but it’s also a recognition of the fact that the first moment you put something in your mouth is a pretty memorable brand experience.

They’ve also pursued some experimentations in localisation, with specific menu items in India, New Zealand, Brasil and other markets to cater to local palates. If you put the product aside for a moment, however, the branding and messaging is absolutely standardised across the globe, and that is increasingly true of many truly global brands.

Wanted: attractive models with obscure mixed ethnic background

This is often a function of economics: the cost of producing and managing 10 different TVCs, for example, to run in 10 different markets (an absolute quantifiable figure), is generally seen as higher than the benefits of improving relevance by tailoring those same TVCs for those 10 markets (virtually impossible to predict and even harder to calculate as an ROI). The worst example of this process are the lip-synced pan-regional shampoo ads, featuring vaguely pan-regional-looking actors in immaculate homes of unearthly whiteness. Ultimately, these ads look like they were created in outer space, or planet ProctorLever.

local relevance, brands, globalisation


The middle of where

So the reflex action from a lot of global brands is to develop a single campaign in a centralised hub – sometimes this is done at the centre of the advertising world (Manhattan or London) or in a centre of cost arbitrage (Bangalore) or geographic proximity to the bulk of the market opportunity (Hong Kong, for a North Asia market, for example). Agencies operating in this model spend a great deal of time playing ‘brand police’, creating brand bibles and managing the approval process.

However, as ’emerging markets’ start to gain confidence and sophistication, demand is growing for brands that talk to local audiences in a way that is authentic, believable and relevant. It’s not to say that local audiences don’t see value in big global brands, but that the brand experience is now expected to become more personally (and locally) relevant. We want these global superstars to come to our house party, but we want them to talk to our friends and sing karaoke with us, not just sit in the corner looking cool, surrounded by minders.

Follow the pendulum, follow the money

Over time, most global brands swing between the extremes of ‘country first’ localisation and ‘global only’ centralised standardisation. The first is expensive and, ultimately, unmanageable at scale – satellite television and social media have effectively ended the idea that messaging can be quarantined to specific countries or even regions. The second tends to result in ‘average-ised’ campaigns that are efficient to produce and work ok in most places, though rarely spectacularly well anywhere.


brands, global, local

Standby to receive official global brand broadcast, which you’re just going to love.


Global agencies make most of their money managing this ongoing tension between global consistency and local relevance for global brands, re-organising and re-staffing as they follow the swinging pendulum between to two ends of the spectrum.

Does the ‘dinosaur medium’ have a plan for the future?

But what if you could build a hyper-efficient globalised/standardised marketing and messaging distribution system that still leaves room for local insights, and relevant local expression? What would that look like? Where would it be based?

Sorry to get your hopes up, but I don’t have the answer, and I’m not sure many global agencies do. But we have been working on some smaller-scale prototypes that steal the idea of global ‘formats’ from the television broadcasting world (y’know, the one that the internet is apparently destroying?).

In particular, we’ve been looking at properties like the singing and cooking shows that dominate the world’s screens. There’s some real operational genius going on here – they are built from the ground up with the intention that certain aspects will be (nay, have to be) modified for local markets, but also with structures and processes that must not and cannot be fucked around with.


If you look at the ‘Idol’ format, there’s always a set number of judges and archetypes that must be followed (the encourager, the eccentric and the bitch), but the individuals in those roles are chosen to be extremely relevant to the local market. The number of shows required to cover the qualifications, eliminations, finals and ultimate winner are also set, but the choice of songs and music styles is, again, completely local. The blue neon logo looks the same everywhere, but the costumes on Israeli Idol are very different to those worn on Brazilian Idol.



They didn’t come to cheer your incredibly well-translated global strapline.


So it’s got more flexibility than a franchise model (McDonalds is not going to let you re-design the menu in every country) but still retains a cohesive brand experience (the narrative of rags-to-riches talent discovery, audience voting to determine the ultimate winner, for example) in all of it’s 46-and-counting global markets. Another key ingredient worth noting in this approach is the use of local production partners and an IP licencing, rather than head-hours fee, remuneration model.

Importantly, from a creative and strategic standpoint, although there are things you can’t change when you work on one of these global formats, there are plenty of very satisfying levers you can pull, which helps attract quality local talent to work on these global formats – a very real issue in the agency world.

As we start to see real business benefits coming from global brands offering locally-relevant experiences, there may well be a change in the way agencies operate to deliver these formats: less of the command-and control of the McDonald’s/Starbucks globocorps and more of the adaptable formats & partnerships approach of Fremantle Media or Endemol.

The recent acquisition of a stake in Droga5 by LA-based talent agency William Morris shows that it’s probably already happening.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


Here’s the thunderbolt from the Argentinian leg of our w2fm Sth American tour: you won’t be able to extract customer insights from your partners and channels, if their insights aren’t being listened to first.

Partners: hear them first, before you ask them to listen on your behalf.

That came through pretty clearly in a few sessions we ran in various countries recently, but it really crystalised for us as we tried to run a game of “What’s my motivation in this scene?” with a few partners who were cast in the role of customers. Sure, the language differences weren’t helping, but it became obvious the partners needed to discuss their own motivations first.

When you think about it, that’s logical. But marketing often just considers partners as just a link in the messaging chain. At best, they simply pass along the script, verbatim. At worst, they’ll let the marketing materials pile up in their inboxes like so much spam.

Because, without relevance, all massages are spam. And all humans are refining their mental spam filters every day, punting as much as they can to the junk folder in their cerebrum, trying to keep the cache clear for more important, interesting or entertaining messages. In fact, this “filtering” is getting so intense that some writers have pointed out that increased internet use is re-wiring our brains. And perhaps, not in a good way. Yes, we can process more messages faster, but at the expense of being able to concentrate on more complex, involved or even simply lengthy messages. Good news for tweets, bad news for books.

Net net: the message you are sending also has to be relevant for the messenger, or it will just get caught in the spam filter.

Another revelation from the Buenos Aires leg: I now know someone who has a patent for a robot. That does sound like rocket surgery.

We’d been talking about a visit to the Latin-American markets for a while, but the final decision to go was extremely last-minute, timed to coincide with a few other meetings and get-togethers in various cities.

First stop was the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, which really has to be the ultimate urban mash-up: ornate European architecture, a vibrant street-art scene, developing-economy sprawl to the outskirts, the world’s highest density of old Puegots, and some of the most passionate approaches to driving I’ve ever witnessed. It’s no accident (pun intended) that this is the country that gave us Juan Manuel Fangio.


The team @ Buenos Aires choose to intersect "kids" and "celery"


The team at Ogilvy Buenos Aires did a superb job hosting and the local IBM clients really came to the party for a very lively workshop. Interestingly, there was a real willingness to use the session to cut to the heart of some of the process questions around briefing (and brief-writing), which is really important when you want to put collaboration into practice. The team were quick to grasp the importance of local insights and we moved quickly to discussions of where to find them & how to cultivate them – there was also plenty of interest in using The Bomb Squad as way to get more of the stakeholders and influencers involved in the messaging, up front.

Mexico City was the next stop, but I really can’t tell you much about this high-altitude city of over 21 million people – we spent a grand total of 13 hours in the country. Several of those hours, however, were spent with the IBM marketing team, learning about this high-growth market that is starting to detach from the US and become a major high-tech manufacturing player. Its these kind of markets – the ones in a period of change, emerging from the shadows of more powerful economies – that really do need insight-driven marketing. A global brand can only take you so far, particularly when your competitors have also recognised the growth potential of the local market.


There's always a need to tune in to local thinking.


I had been warned that the spirit of competition was alive and well amongst the people of Latin and South America, and the Mexico City edition of w2fm bore the maxim out. The game of “Features to Benefits” generated some real debate, and we even managed to squeeze in a quick game of “What’s My Motivation In This Scene?” that revealed some surprising local drivers in the server market. Again, this is the stuff that you simply can’t find in global guidance decks. We had time for a very quick sampling of the local fare before heading off to catch yet another plane.

We had a pretty big turn out for w2fm in Sao Paulo – probably as large as the crowd in Beijing – which can sometimes be a challenge in terms of generating interaction and participation. It’s a fact of human nature that it is easier to “hitch a ride” with a larger group. But the natural expressiveness and love of communication that my Brazilian friends had assured me were national traits won out and, pretty quickly, we got rolling.  Some of the tools and games naturally  lend themselves to a bit of friendly competition, revealing why Brazilians are world champs in so many sports – they really put everything into it.


Proving that 2 heads are indeed better.


Collaboration is something that seems to come naturally in this part of the world – it’s a very inclusive culture. Perhaps the most striking thing about this high-velocity tour of South America was the just-below-the-surface tension between the raw creativity and innovation that defines so many growth markets, and the hierarchichal, process-driven nature of so many multinational organisations.

The companies that can loosen their processes enough to let local innovation shivne – and then encourage a culture of lateral, country-to-country sharing – will find real value in emerging and growth markets, beyond the obvious attraction of selling to new markets.

I did get to visit one more city, unintentionally, on my way home: Santiago looks beautiful, in a dramatic, just beneath-the-Andes kind of way, but is very hard to recommend as a half-day trip for the international visitor.

We spent way too much time in airports and on planes, but we also spent time with so many great new friends at some fabulous places, so don’t cry for me Argentina. One of the highlights of the downtime was this organised tour of Buenos Aires Street art:


In BA, you don't need permission to paint your own house like this, apparently


A film production company, near palermo Hollywood.

On the wall of a power station - the artists were invited by the power company.

graffitimundo runs informative, relaxed walking tours twice a week