Global advertising isn’t always the best strategy

Global versus local advertising is something multinational marketers have been wrestling with over the past few years. The efficiencies related to cutting production costs via a global campaign are very appealing to corporate bean counters. However, many international brands are implementing local campaigns, or at least tweaking global efforts, in the realization that TV executions often don't effectively transcend borders.

Global versus local advertising is something multinational marketers have been wrestling with over the past few years. The efficiencies related to cutting production costs via a global campaign are very appealing to corporate bean counters. However, many international brands are implementing local campaigns, or at least tweaking global efforts, in the realization that TV executions often don’t effectively transcend borders.

According to a study released by ACNielsen late last year, there are relatively few brands – only 43 – that can be considered global brands, with annual worldwide sales of more than US$1 billion. The leading category is beverages and its leader is Coca-Cola, which logs over US$15 billion in sales.

So Coca-Cola would seemingly have the most to gain from a global campaign agenda. Yet, the Atlanta-based company is backing away from the global strategy launched just a year ago. Its ‘Life tastes good’ campaign hasn’t lifted Coke’s sluggish North American sales over the past two years, according to financial reports.

Although a consistent global positioning and strategy will be developed at its Atlanta-based headquarters, Coke’s new approach will be less rigid. Local Coke marketers will be guided by Atlanta and tailor the campaign according to market needs rather than have to execute a script developed in a central location.

Perhaps most indicative of how much leeway is allowed: Stephen Jones, Coca-Cola’s worldwide chief marketing officer, stated recently in the U.K. marketing publication Marketing Week that the ‘Life tastes good’ tag will disappear in most countries and could be replaced by regional rather than universal theme lines in others.

Mars Inc. has begun a ‘local’ strategy for its rebranding of Mars Bar across Europe. Individual taglines have been created to appeal to the various cultural differences of each country.

The call to candy bar lovers in the U.K. is ‘Pleasure you can’t measure’ while their counterparts in Germany and France will be targeted with ‘It is Mars – that’s it’ and ‘Mars – What happiness.’

Alan Kay, president of Toronto consulting firm The Glasgow Group, says product category should be a key factor in the decision of whether to run with a global campaign. He says technology and apparel brands tend to travel well, while food, beverage and packaged goods fall prey to obstacles such as cultural differences, brand experience, category development and local economy.

And while some packaged goods firms believe what works in one country often works in another, ‘how you promote Tide in the U.K., versus the U.S., versus Thailand really does need a lot more attention paid to consumer behaviour,’ says Kay. For many countries outside of North America, he adds, mainstream brands such as Coca-Cola or Tide would be luxury brands for the ‘wealthy’.

Kay says cultural differences are most evident in food categories where there are not only regional taste issues but also category development obstacles. One example he points to is Oreo. It is a popular North American cookie brand but as a chocolate-based biscuit with iced filling, it is not a brand that does well in the UK because that segment of the category is not well established there.

Even in categories where global advertising is feasible, some companies believe you must still address each region specifically for some brands.

IBM found the face it presented to the world can be coherent without entailing rigid adherence to a cookie-cutter approach. Keyvan Cohanim, VP of marketing and communications for IBM Canada, says it is very important for IBM to have a common look and feel around the world in the 160 different countries in which it operates. ‘We’re really trying to portray ourselves as a single global company. The IT industry we participate in, the services area of consulting with customers, and the solutions we talk about are all applicable globally.’

Cohanim says this standardization began in the early ’90s when the company operated under a different model, one where every country pretty much did its own thing and IBM had a different image in each place. For global customers it must have been very confusing, says Cohanim, and that’s when IBM moved from a total of 88 different ad agencies to just one – Ogilvy & Mather. ‘We ensured that we had a common message around what our strategy and our value was to the marketplace. That started with ‘Solutions for a Small Planet’ and evolved to our current e-business sub-brand and strategy.’

Still, he says there is flexibility to tweak a campaign, and that will happen with the new US$375 million global campaign, ‘E-Business is the Game. Play to Win.’ The campaign launches next month and the Toronto office of O&M will be tailoring it by adding some Canadian IBM customers to the spots, which feature international companies reaping the benefits of IBM’s e-business solutions.

While messaging is consistent, Cohanim says that often the timing is different from country to country where category development, economic factors and even regulatory elements come into play. Wireless technology for business applications is one example. Cohanim says the U.K. is probably 18 months ahead of Canada in establishing a wireless infrastructure (facilities and equipment) while Canada is about a year ahead of the U.S.

Indeed, marketers in most categories are finding that a mix of global positioning with local advertising is the best recipe. The Coca-Cola Company, for example, recently pulled back from its global advertising strategy to take a more regional approach.

The branding and positioning of Coca-Cola will continue to be consistent around the world, says Alison Lewis, VP of advertising for Toronto-based Coca-Cola Ltd., but how it is executed locally is based on what is best for each market. Currently, 30% to 40% of the company’s advertising is made specifically for the Canadian market.

‘A Coke is a Coke is a Coke no matter what country you go to, however the local activation is different so you won’t see exactly the same advertising. In Canada we’ve got to do what’s right for the Canadian market and the Canadian consumer,’ says Lewis, who adds that marketing schemes developed at the soft drink manufacturer’s Atlanta-based headquarters will still be used in Canada ‘where it makes sense.’

One example of how Coke’s strategy is working is with the new Sprite spot from Cossette Communication-Marketing of Toronto that builds on Sprite’s global positioning around basketball, but features the Toronto Raptors’ feisty star Jerome ‘Junk Yard Dog’ Williams. Around the Olympics, Coca-Cola’s nostalgic ‘He Shoots. He Scores’ commercial from MacLaren McCann resonated with Canadians in a way that no offshore campaign could have.

And a made-in-Canada commercial is still on the air to support last fall’s launch of Diet Coke with Lemon. The U.S. decided not to support the launch with television advertising, but in Canada Lewis says they wanted to get the broadest reach and maximum awareness of the product as quickly as possible. Television, she says, was the best vehicle to accomplish that.

Rick Wolfe, president of PostStone, a Toronto research and strategic planning company, says unless results of global campaigns are fantastic, there is going to be constant pressure from local marketers to tailor advertising for the unique needs of their marketplace.

Wolfe was an account executive on the Coca-Cola business at McCann-Erickson (now MacLaren McCann) when Stephen Jones of Coke was brand manager on Sprite in Canada. At that time, they worked with their bosses to prepare a presentation to the head of global advertising for Coca-Cola on why Sprite advertising in Canada should be local.

Wolfe says, ‘If Coca-Cola and other global marketers are moving away from global campaigns, it would seem they can’t find global consumer segments big enough to market to. But none of that invalidates a global brand.

‘You can still have a strong global brand identity and still have a positioning in different markets that is tuned to the needs of the marketplace.’

He says brands have histories and those are the intangibles that push global marketers to local campaigns. A case in point is Kraft Dinner.

‘There’s a real Canadian heritage for that brand,’ explains Wolfe. ‘There are all these built-up memories and feelings about Kraft Dinner from the experiences we had in college.’

However, he adds: ‘There are different rituals about going to college in the U.S. and no amount of advertising could turn Kraft macaroni and cheese into the same brand there.’

Unilever, one of the world’s largest marketers, has worldwide agency relationships but relies heavily on localized advertising. Notable successes in Unilever’s decision to go local include Sunlight laundry detergent’s long-running ‘Go ahead. Get dirty’ campaign, as well as Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup and Dove.

Stephen Kouri, VP of brand development, personal care for Unilever Canada, says with a big company like Unilever it’s very important to find the right balance of global and local advertising. Brand propositions travel well, but TV executions may not, he says.

‘It really depends on the situation of the brand, the brand proposition and certainly in our case, we’re encouraged to use advertising from the U.S. or afar when it’s good and when it’s right.’