In the current political age, globalisation has become something of a dirty word, redolent of top-down imposition on local and national identities. We’re living in a time when local is considered authentic and being global makes you a citizen of nowhere.
For global brands, this presents a dilemma. They are torn between the need to maintain brand consistency and efficiency worldwide and a desire to reach local audiences in a believable way.
Traditionally, CMOs have, of course, valued consistency of brand messaging. Conveying the right tone of voice and language online and offline and creating a familiar look and feel have been key to global branding.
Take Coca-Cola, for example. The soft drinks giant announced last year that it would adopt a global “One Brand” approach. Its global marketing platform focused on the fundamentals of the soft drink—the Spencerian script, the red disc, and the iconic glass bottle—but with a modern take, featuring authentic and real moments with the product centre stage.
The global creative was designed to celebrate the notion that the simple pleasure of drinking an ice-cold Coca-Cola makes any moment more special. The universal moments and storytelling depicted in the campaign were created to resonate with its consumers globally. So, while the same images and television creative in Japan would also be seen in Italy, in Mexico, and around the world, the campaign’s framework respects and encourages local decision-making, while, at the same time, supporting a unified brand identity.
There’s clearly merit in this approach. Employing a local agency to identify and implement the particular cultural sensitivities should help iron out any issues when it comes to local nuance or the state of the market. There are plenty of examples where nuance has been lost by big global brands. KFC’s global “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan got lost in translation in the 80s in China, where it literally translated to “Eat Your Fingers Off,” while P&G launched its Pampers diaper range in Japan repurposing its global ad featuring a stork delivering a baby, completely missing the fact that, in Japanese culture, a giant peach is responsible for delivering a child to expectant parents.
Clearly, what works in one country may not work in another. What is seen as a household staple in one market may be considered a premium or even luxury item in another—witness the ongoing success of InBev convincing Brits that its standard Stella Artois lager is “reassuringly expensive.” Campaigns must be consistent, but they also need to flex, although not too far.
The difficulty comes with execution, when centralised plans are simply handed to a diverse collection of local agencies, each selected in-market. While each territory-specific campaign must remain relevant to global goals, marketers have to ensure they pay due attention to local and cultural differences. How they do so is the rub. Brands don’t want local agencies to reinvent the wheel—it’s time-consuming, expensive, and runs the risk of message dilution.
So how can you deliver consistent messaging, with a global big idea at its core, that’s also relevant across all markets—and doesn’t break the bank?
One way of doing this is by centralising the strategy, creative, and core operations to one global team, which works with carefully selected local representatives, network offices, or partners to deliver a consistent idea that bends to accommodate for cultural differences. Rather than rolling out an iteration of a global idea in each market, this approach allows genuine flexibility without sacrificing brand integrity. The key is that the central team retains both responsibility and control.
For example, last year, Bombay Sapphire sought to capitalise on the renaissance of gin through a pan-European campaign called “The Grand Journey.” To ensure consistency across all elements of the activation, the brand adopted a global approach. Creative, strategy, operation, planning, and physical asset production was centralised in London and transported to each market, driving considerable cost efficiencies. However, this would have been a false economy if the brand failed to connect at a local level.
As an immersive activity, it was essential that the brand delivered a deeply engaging experience. The central production team was supplemented with a range of in-market project managers and partners operating under strict global operational structures. This ensured consistency but also took advantage of their local knowledge and experience.
Of course, this is just one possibility for solving the eternal global versus local debate. No one size can or should fit all situations. Building a more mixed and inclusive central team can help, a universal message can be delivered by a local celebrity or brand ambassador, or brands can even appeal to local consumers to co-create a campaign that will have a genuinely local flavour.
What is clear is that CMOs face a delicate balancing act in delivering a global message in local markets. With the rise of national identity sensitivities, the risk is that campaigns either underperform locally or fail completely due to cultural insensitivity.
A centralised global team will always appeal to the more global ambitions of growing brands. By involving a local dynamic, there is the opportunity to have the best of all worlds. Think global, but implement local.