Global vs local marketing - where things get sticky

Brand campaigns are under scrutiny, more than ever before.

Brands used to be able to launch a bad campaign with little to no consequences; mediocrity went unnoticed. Now, brands are under fire as soon as there’s a hint of bad humour or cultural inappropriateness – a campaign that may have been intended to be funny or quirky can easily turn into a political scandal. Within hours. And even if a campaign is pulled, there will forever be evidence of it floating in the digital world.

This problem is amplified when you’re dealing with global campaigns. A creative concept may seem like a good idea when pitched by a convincing creative team in a trendy London or New York ad agency – but will this concept resonate with a brand’s local audience across multiple markets? Will they get that quirky joke, or understand that cultural reference? Or worse, will they be offended?

And because information travels so quick, a bad campaign in one market can reflect badly on the entire brand.

The following guide will give you a few clues on how to avoid the common pitfalls of global marketing and make your creative ideas travel with impact.

1. Think “global”

All too often global marketing teams will not revisit their marketing strategy before launching a campaign into different markets. They are confident with their ‘global’ marketing strategy, which may be strong in their own market or region but can easily fail elsewhere. In fact, each new market should be considered with fresh marketing eyes. While the essence of the brand should remain the same, the strategy needs to be carefully examined in light of extensive research carried out in market. All elements of your classic marketing mix will have to be reassessed: the target audience, competition, product offering, tactics…  Not an easy task when you’re dealing with multiple markets, of course. But remember – the biggest brands have a “Glocal” strategy.

Take McDonald’s for instance; while they keep their overarching branding consistent, they bring local flavours, literally, to different countries, by creating regional specialities. Their international menu is quite surprising: you can order a Filet-O-Shrimp burger in Japan, Mc Noodles in Austria, or a McArabia flatbread in the Middle East. Food for global thought.

2. Creativity is culture-bound

Another point to consider is how creativity is culture-bound. If you break down what constitutes marketing creativity, it comes down to concepts, words and images meant to provoke an emotional reaction in a target audience. That emotional element is culture specific; what may provoke an emotion in one culture may completely miss the mark with another. Creativity is not abstract – it is tied to a set of beliefs and references that play a huge part in defining who we are and how we behave, collectively and individually. So much so that we don’t realise just how much they determine our behaviour, taste and opinions – making it difficult for a “global” marketer to assess how a creative idea will perform in a different market.

How could we forget Dolce & Gabbana’s 2017 campaign in China, in which they portrayed a Chinese woman attempting to eat pizza with chopsticks to the dismay of the Chinese community – and everyone else. The marketers and creatives that came up with this terrible idea probably didn’t realise just how insulting it was and may even have found it funny or ironic.

But humour, especially, is not only subjective, but culture specific. Factors such as history, religion, social codes, gender balance, or politics will define what’s perceived as creatively acceptable in market. Creativity means freedom, but this freedom is restricted by cultural boundaries.

Brands need to tread carefully and weigh up the risks associated with their creative choices – risks not only to their campaign performance, but to their reputation.

If you’re planning to launch a campaign across different markets, we always suggest carrying out an extensive in-market cultural consultation to make sure your creative works everywhere.

3. Language matters

This is an obvious one, but you’d be surprised by the number of global brands that don’t invest in the quality of the local content they deliver.

Getting localised copy wrong can result in some rather funny and embarrassing brand anecdotes.

Take KFC for example – in the late 1980s they tried to expand into China but got off on the wrong foot when they translated their famous slogan “Finger-lickin’ good” into a less delicious: “Eat your fingers off.”

Ford learned the importance of choosing a good translation service the hard way. In one of their campaigns in Belgium, instead of highlighting their car’s excellent manufacturing by stating “Every car has a high-quality body” they offered a dead body with each car: “Every car has a high-quality corpse”!

Choosing the right people to write or localise your copy is key, and it’s also crucial to select the right copy validators. Make sure the writers and validators have been exposed to the strategy and are given a clear understanding of the concept. Getting all your content thoroughly proofread is also important – any typo will reflect badly on your brand.

4. Choose the right visuals

A lot of thought needs to go into getting the right imagery or footage for your campaign to ensure it appeals to local audiences visually and does not provoke any negative reaction.

Beauty and aesthetics will differ completely from one region to another. In their recent campaign in China, Zara portrayed a famous Chinese model with minimal make-up, revealing her freckles. While Westerners will find these freckles strikingly beautiful, to the Chinese audience they are considered unattractive, as any sign of sun exposure is perceived negatively there. Global brands can challenge local perceptions, and in this case broaden the spectrum of what’s considered beautiful – though one may wonder whether in this case Zara did so intentionally and had expected such backlash from the Chinese audience who took to Twitter to voice their disapproval.

Choosing the right cast is a very important step, and it’s always safe to get your cast vetted by in-market specialists. The same goes for any imagery or footage – always run it past locals to ensure there isn’t any shocking element that may require retouching or a change altogether.

Some visual elements to look out for:

  • Tattoos (perceived negatively in many markets)
  • Women with bare skin on show (not accepted in some Muslim countries, to various degrees)
  • Animals (some may be considered holy or sacrilegious)
  • Colours (may have different meaning across different markets)

5. Global vs local marketing teams

A frequent cause for unsuccessful global campaigns is the broken relationship between global and local marketing teams. Are most of the decisions taken by a central team at the HQ? Or does the power sit with local marketing teams?

More often than not, markets outside of the HQ region are not considered as key, although they could represent a huge opportunity for growth. There may be frictions between global and local teams, especially if the local teams do not feel that they are being heard. Issues can also arise when campaigns are run separately by different local markets – resulting in a lack of brand consistency, duplication of efforts, and cost inefficiencies.

Let’s be clear, there are no right or wrong set ups – a brand can run a successful campaign with a centralised or local marketing model. The key is communication, and the ability to track campaign performance in each market. If a model is not working, an audit must be carried out – not just of the marketing teams, but of the extended marketing function including any agencies. This is to assess any breakdown in communication, inefficiencies or campaign performance issues.

It’s worth considering the help of an external agency to help you strike the right balance between local and global. That’s precisely where a marketing implementation agency can help, as they specialise in getting global campaigns out to market, while bridging any gap in communication between local and global teams.

6. Know the local rules

Make sure you understand local rules and procedures that may apply in your target markets.

In some markets, you will need to get your ads ‘cleared’ by local advertising bodies before they can air. This is what is referred to as clearance. Working closely with local advertising authorities is key to better understand local regulations, which can differ immensely from one market to another.

Even within the same continent, the differences can be significant. In some European countries it is illegal to advertise spirits and beers above a certain percentage of alcohol, while in other markets advertising alcohol is banned altogether.

Another key element to consider is substantiation; you must have reasonable evidence to back up any claim. It is illegal to state you sell the most efficient car, if there is no evidence to support that claim.

All these legal aspects need to be examined as early on in your campaign as possible to avoid having to go back to the drawing board at a later stage.

To wrap up

Running a global campaign is no piece of cake. Juggling local regulations, with cultural considerations and communication with multiple stakeholders – global marketers are effectively marketing superheroes!

But remember, you don’t have to do it alone: get all the support you need from local experts through Freedman. Our global community of experts will ensure that your creative ideas travel to wherever they need to go, with impact and resonance.

Get in touch to find out how we could help you.

For more information on how to run a successful global marketing campaign, take a look at our Global Campaign Workbook.