When planning a global campaign, it is important to consider that markets have very different attitudes towards social and political matters such as gender, sexuality, diversity or sustainability.
Culture, religion, politics…all of these factors influence how people think and what is perceived as acceptable in local markets. Some markets have very strict taboos dictated by religion or superstition. Other markets are under strict political rule. Access to education and openness to the rest of the world will also impact people’s attitudes towards progress. Of course, social progress is happening across different areas of the globe, but progress is very different from one country to another. While in the UK issues such as transphobia, racial discrimination, or sexual harassment are more and more scrutinised, in Saudi Arabia women were only recently given the right to drive.
Moreover, even in markets that are considered progressive, the rise of neo-nationalism means that societies are becoming more and more divided. Nationalist leaders are clinging onto an idealised representation of the past, spreading fear of change and intolerance. This can be seen in negative reactions to advertising campaigns. Take the recent Viva La Vulva campaign for feminine care brand Bodyform. The campaign, launched in 2018, celebrated the female body by playfully representing the vulva through various objects – with a mission to educate and break down the taboos around female sexual anatomy (see example below). The ad was met with great reactions from the creative community, but some markets did not react to it positively.
Surprisingly, there were hostile reactions in France, not particularly known to be a puritan nation. Some French viewers deemed the ad revolting, rather than empowering. The backlash triggered a deluge of complaints to the country’s electronic media regulator, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA).
While there was an obvious backlash, the campaign still got people talking across different media platforms. Viva La Vulva even made headlines. So, sometimes it’s worth taking a risk. But, it’s all about assessing the situation within the market in order to predict and measure the potential backlash. If certain subgroups are going to react negatively, but the market as a whole is likely to celebrate the campaign or be positively challenged by it, then it’s worth pushing out into the region.
If a market’s current social, political or cultural situation is incredibly heated on a certain topic, brands should be prepared for negative reaction and decide whether they’re strong enough to face the potential controversy. For example, Hungary as a nation is divided on topics like sexuality. Research shows that many Hungarians hold progressive values, with more and more supporting LGBTQI rights. However, the ruling conservative party, Fidesz, and many of its supporters are openly against same-sex marriage. In fact, Boldog István, a Fidesz MP, called for the boycott of Coca-Cola until the brand removed its OOH ads featuring images of same-sex couples. This explains why Coca-Cola had to change the campaign visuals in this region.