Pan-European advertising is often accused of being the “lowest common denominator”, spending too much time worrying about superficial national characteristics at the expense of the single bold idea with the power to move consumers in many markets.
In the past, I have steered away from joining this debate. “Local versus pan-European” is a familiar area of discussion and has been well covered over the years. Both sides invariably tread familiar theoretical ground, with little hope of proving the case one way or the other.
However, at one of our recent pan-European meetings, I was involved in analysing the results of the major advertising awards of the past year, with the specific purpose of assessing the state of creativity across the region.
Examination of winning work soon began to suggest that international advertising is going through something of a creative renaissance as advertisers seek to take their brands across borders.
Companies as diverse as IDV with Smirnoff, Microsoft, AT&T, British Airways, Polaroid, Nike, Volvo, Lee, Levi’s and a host of others, are producing major campaigns designed to run in many countries and relying on powerful, and often daring, creative executions.
This emphasis on creativity has not happened by accident. Indeed, it is quite clear that many markets, such as information and communications technology, airlines, and courier services, which are by definition international, are undergoing fundamental change. Not only have they grown and become more competitive, but product parity is making it more important to differentiate brands. This can only be achieved by advertising that crosses borders as effectively as the brands.
Creative quality is also showing in the advertising of upmarket lifestyle products, an area that has long espoused international advertising but has also been regarded as creatively lacklustre. Today, however, it is possible to point to luxury goods campaigns where creative ideas are transcending cultural differences and are regarded as original and relevant wherever they run.
The same is happening in the drinks sector, notably with brands such as Smirnoff and Seagram’s
Glen Grant. These products are being transformed into fashionable brands internationally.
The challenge for agencies is to ensure advertisers compete cost-effectively in an increasingly crowded market.
It is a challenge that has carried the “Local versus pan-European” debate from the realm of the abstract into a concrete test of pan-European advertising.