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.
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.
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.
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.