We help brands thrive, everywhere. Even in the tough times. Read our Covid-19 statement.

In our age of cancel-culture, viral tweets and social media scandals, it’s hard not to notice when brands get it wrong. And, boy, do brands get it wrong when it comes to global content. Who can forget McDonald’s’ highly insensitive approach to Halloween 2019 with their Sundae Bloody Sundae creative? Though released in Portugal, the ad left many Irish customers with a bitter taste in their mouths. To produce successful content, you’ve got to understand the global picture, ensuring that your creative isn’t going to damage your reputation around the world.

However, you’ve also got to make sure your creative resonates with people at a local level, a lesson Pepsi Co. learnt the hard way. When launching into the Chinese market, their slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ simply didn’t translate locally. Instead, their message read more like: ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.’ Ancestral heritage plays a hugely important role in Chinese culture, so it’s no wonder the line didn’t go down well. But how can brands avoid these blunders? Well sadly, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to making global content that works locally. But this how-to guide should help steer you in the right direction.

So, why do brands get it wrong?

There are loads of reasons why global brand campaigns go astray in local markets. Often brands simply don’t put enough local insight into their creative strategy and fall into the trap of crafting content from stereotypes. And even if brands manage to escape the stereotypes, there are still so many ways for them to slip up, from copy to visual to execution. Here are a few things you should look out for when creating your global content:

  • Humour is informed by both culture and language. Puns, for example, are really tricky, since they rely on wordplay in a specific language.
  • Many metaphors are built on local superstitions/proverbs or beliefs meaning they’ll need to be checked with the target market in mind.
  • Traditions differ vastly around the globe, so references to festivities, seasons, and/or calendar events will need to be market specific.
  • Colours have multiple meanings around the world. For example, in Western countries like the UK, France and North America, red is associated with passion. While in China, red is the colour of good fortune, hence the tradition of hongbao where red envelopes containing money are gifted from older to younger relatives during Chinese New Year.
  • Visual aesthetics are also viewed differently depending on the market. Tattoos are an example of a ‘look’ that can cause contention. In many Western countries, they’re the norm, but in Japan tattoos are historically associated with organised crime.
  • Emotional expression is hugely cultural. For example, in the West, a thumbs-up is a positive sign of approval, but in parts of the Middle East it’s seen as highly offensive. 
  • Some animals may be considered holy or sacrilegious, depending on the region.
  • Landscapes also need to be localised. While the UK may be connected to France by the Channel Tunnel, a backdrop of Bristol just isn’t going to land with TV viewers in Toulouse.

Of course, ticking off this list alone won’t ensure that your global content will work locally. But, there are also set processes you can follow to guarantee that your global content resonates in local markets. Read on to discover what you need to know…

Use local insight from the beginning…

Yes, the creative idea will form the core of your campaign, but that doesn’t mean creativity comes first. Market and cultural realities must be considered from the beginning of the creative process, ensuring that the idea is not only valid on a global scale but also for your target markets.

We’d recommend carrying out cultural consultations at different campaign stages, starting with creative concept testing, whereby in-market experts are consulted. These local experts will share recommendations on whether a creative route will work locally. Just make sure your pool of in-market specialists is wide enough, giving you the most insight possible into the target markets, and that it incorporates strategists as well as creatives. Don’t be afraid to put the local experts to the test. Ask them to back up their answers with in-depth rationale so that you’re fully informed to tackle any conceptual, visual or linguistic issues.

…to the end

A journalist wouldn’t start writing an article without the approval of their editor. Similarly, you shouldn’t give your global creative the go-ahead without getting the finalised version validated by in-market experts. These experts will ensure your creative works across all your target markets, checking it thoroughly so there won’t be any issues when localising copy or visuals. They’ll also determine whether the creative contains anything that might cause offence.

Find a global thread

A great tactic for creating global content that works locally is to find a global thread. What do we mean by that? Put simply, it’s all about finding a universal creative idea that has a cross-market appeal. By finding a global thread, brands can save money by reusing creative when suitable.

So, how does it work? In-market experts will provide you with their market findings from individual markets. You can then compare these findings for certain markets, Germany and Spain for example, to discover a global thread that connects them. A thread might be a common global event that ties markets together like the Olympics. Or, it might be a universal truth, such as the human desire for belonging. By finding a global thread – whatever it may be – you’ll be able to re-use certain creatives, like TV or radio scripts, across global markets. The need for later adaptations will be minimised, and your content won’t cost the earth to produce.

A great example is Heineken’s latest global campaign ‘Cheers To All’. The stereotype of beer being a ‘man’s drink’ is a universal theme, so all markets can relate to the overarching creative idea. In terms of execution, the locations – modern bars, art galleries and restaurants – aren’t necessarily placeable and the cast is diverse and multinational. Overall, the look and feel of the launch video is inherently global. While Heineken will surely tweak and re-create assets for their specific markets, a lot of the hard work has already been done. We’ll raise a glass to that!

Be in the clear with clearance

Of course, when a brand like Heineken intends to air their ad on TV across various markets, they have to think about clearance. Many markets have strict advertising standards and regulations set by clearance bodies, such as ClearCast in the UK, the ARPP in France, AutoControl in Spain, Clear Ads in Australia and ThinkTV in Canada.

If an ad goes against these clearance standards, costly amends might have to be made or worse…the ad might have to ditched altogether. For example, an ad depicting people eating in their home while watching a TV/mobile/laptop screen simply wouldn’t pass clearance in France and would have to be adapted.

To avoid costly errors, global marketers should get pre-clearance. This means sending any initial creative, like work-in-progress scripts, visuals or storyboards, to clearance bodies and local experts in order to check that the ad is on the right track, and to get clarification on clearance timelines.

Follow the right process

Of course, while content is all about unleashing a brand’s creative idea into the world, there has to be a strict process behind the scenes. Here’s what we’d recommend to help manage the entire campaign process successfully:

  • Set up a Brand Board, across global and local teams to discuss in-market data and to share insights.
  • Operate a Creative Centre of Excellence where local creative teams can report to the global creative team. By doing so, any global creative ideas that are suitable for local markets can be shared. Equally, any problematic global creative can be flagged by the local brand teams.
  • Agree on a clear process and timeline with your teams and the in-market specialists to ensure you all work in sync.
  • Ensure that the cultural consultation results come in at the right times during the creative development.

We hope you found this quick guide to creating global content that works locally useful. If you’d like to speak to discuss any of the challenges addressed in this blog then please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’re always happy to chat!

For an in-depth look at creating content that makes a local impact, make sure to download our guide: ‘Taking Your Brand Global: Marketing Implementation for Global Brands’.

Stay tuned