How to make global marketing locally relevant

Global marketing is a balancing act between consistency and appealing to diverse markets. We look at the right agency model to ensure local contexts and cultural sensitivities are taken into account by the creative.

Dubbed adverts and poorly translated slogans are becoming less acceptable in global advertising, but solving the problem of local relevance often comes down to internal organisation within brands and their relationships with agencies.

At the Cannes Lions festival last year Sir John Hegarty, founder of advertising agency BBH, said that global advertising “does not work” because people feel it “isn’t a part of their culture and doesn’t connect with them”. He repeated those sentiments at an event hosted by Posterscope last month. Many multinationals seem to disagree, as they are increasingly organising their marketing centrally, but how does a global marketing organisation retain local consistency?

Matt Barwell, chief marketing officer at Britvic, believes in the global model: “Consistency is best achieved when a global brand team works with a lead strategic agency,” he says. Britvic recently launched Fruit Shoot Mini Mudder – a children’s version of the Tough Mudder fitness event – across the US, UK and Ireland on the same day.

To ensure the launch was aligned across the various markets it appointed a lead strategic agency to oversee the coordination of all the local teams. Britvic claims it worked because of a close collaboration between various teams and because they were all working with the same assets.

Barwell says: “Ideally local brand teams should be working with powerful global assets that have cross market appeal; they’re then more likely to feel invested in activating the communications and make a more powerful impact at a local level.” (See the full Q&A here).

Another example of restructuring towards the global model comes from Nestlé. Last year the brand wanted a faster, more consistent and more cost-effective way of getting global campaigns to customers and decided to review its global advertising production process.

It selected marketing agency Hogarth to move to a centralised model having previously outsourced to a series of production suppliers.

Nestlé trialled this process first, putting Hogarth to work on its frozen food brand Stouffer’s and its Purina pet food range, and saw assets produced by one agency made available through one portal. The brand claims this increased efficiency and cut production costs by around 20%.

“Having all assets available through a single portal, where progress can be reviewed and decisions made on the fly, is the future of advertising,” says Barry Jones, founder and chief executive officer at Hogarth Worldwide.

Jones also believes that international campaign management has changed enormously over the last decade because of the dominance of online and social media, which means international campaigns can be seen across the world at any given time. “No matter where it’s viewed – on TV, on a mobile, on a tablet, on a billboard – a campaign must look and feel the same while being flexed to cater to the nuances of each individual market,” he says.

However, Britvic’s Barwell says global campaigns work most effectively “when the local brand team’s mind-set is programmed to look for similarities across borders rather than differences”.

Global agency models

Using a lead agency, or just one, for global work doesn’t mean that brands are not casting the net wider for specific global needs. For example Secret Escapes, the luxury travel flash sales website, appointed Karmarama as its new advertising agency earlier this month as it looks to create a mass-market brand. Although creatively the brand centralises and executes work from London it uses local agencies on the media buying side.

Other multinationals use a global framework while also allowing individual brands within their portfolios to vary their local approaches. This is the case for Danone’s shopper marketing: the company, which owns brands such as Evian, Actimel and Cow&Gate, uses agency HRG to activate its global point of sale strategy.

The approach is to develop a concept that can be filtered down to a ‘toolkit’, with guidelines where required, that can be supplied to global markets to activate locally. At Evian, local marketing teams take the agency model as standard and customise it for individual trade channels.

Olivia Sanchez, global activation manager for Evian at Danone, says: “The advantage that one agency provides is that you ensure the look and feel. What the local markets provide is the context and they ensure that it’s appropriate for each market.”

Sanchez stresses that the root of these campaigns has to be creativity. “You have to feed the creativity from the beginning with the right insight and the right consumer information so that the outcome is appropriate across markets,” she says.

Using one agency for a specific function of the creative process can also ensure brand consistency around the world. Last month, specialist music agency Big Sync was appointed by Unilever as the single supplier for its music services across all of its brands in all territories, which includes licensing music from original tracks to bespoke compositions, creative content for campaign amplification, music search, and talent partnership deals.

Travel flash sale site Secret Escapes avoids cultural assumptions and translates the brand to make it relevant to local people

Big Sync has relationships with a network of local rights owners from composers to emerging artists, which means it can be regional as well as global. Dominic Caisley, chief executive officer at Big Sync Music, says: “Giving campaigns local relevance is one of the challenges of the job. It’s not so much about finding global or local solutions but looking at consumer groups, target audiences and the task at hand.

“We deal with local brand teams and creative teams and give them what’s required for their ads. As an example, in India, roughly 55% of the songs in the top 20 charts are by US or European artists and about 45% are Indian artists so we would take this information into consideration as we looked for the right solution.”

Insight is also key for Danone. Part of Sanchez’s responsibility, from a global standpoint, is to ensure the brand has the right input from local markets so the key messages are delivered, the needs of the markets are met, and they are produced in a way so that Evian is always recognisable and consistent to the consumer.

Localised market insight

A ‘one size fits’ all approach to global advertising can be problematic due to cultural differences but one way of feeding these differences into the creative is to have brand and agency teams on the ground conducting research before and during the creative process.

Advertising agency 72andSunny Amsterdam works with Diageo’s vodka brand Smirnoff. When Smirnoff initially asked the agency to lead a pan-African launch it admitted to not knowing anything about local cultures or the competitive landscape, which spawned a research trip to Kenya and Nigeria that saw staff experiencing everyday life there, including meeting local people and learning the languages.

Stephanie Feeney, director of strategy at 72andSunny Amsterdam, says: “We learned that ignorance, if spotted early, admitted openly and treated thoughtfully, can be the best creative fuel. We mashed up creative testing, cultural ethnography, pre-production, creative development, local market relationship-building and influencer outreach; and came out the other end with an authentic creative product.”

From this the brand produced The Double Side, an ad which portrays young African men “turning the ordinary into the extraordinary”, for example a barbershop into a dance floor.

However, Ted Linehan, director of savoury products at United Biscuits, believes “it is not practical to conduct research in every single market” (see viewpoint below).

“The research will be shaped by the category, the level of development of the category within the particular market in question and your competitive position within this. In some cases, it is reasonable to assume that the same insights will resonate globally. However, in other cases it is important to identify cultural ‘clusters’ of countries, and then use identified insights from a country within that cluster to make a reasonable assumption of similar responses for your target market,” says Linehan.

Avoid generalising

Making cultural mistakes could be avoided by utilising local insights. Barwell at Britvic says: “Brand teams should never assume that a demographic is [homogenous] or group markets together based on their geographic location. For example Australia is geographically close to south-east Asia but culturally a million miles away.”

Secret Escapes chief marketing officer Cian Weeresinghe also believes that brands should avoid cultural assumptions.We are aware when we look at other markets that we might have to think about translating the brand into something that actually means something to local people. You can’t just assume that your name will work. You can’t assume that one size fits all.”

Cultural sensitivities in the market can also be identified and avoided, steering any creative away from campaigns that fail to resonate or, at worst, offend a population.

Sanchez at Danone says: “What’s important in all global marketing campaigns is that you do give some room for the local market to add the context and what works best for them, but always starting from a big global idea. If it’s relevant and strong it will make sense for everyone, but you need to make sure that the right cultural context and cultural sensitivities are taken into account when doing the local activation of that.”

What’s clear is that global campaigns and global brand-agency relationships require balance. Brands need to be sensitive to local markets but should be wary of over-investing in understanding them, which could lead to creative that neither offends nor excites anyone.

It is critical to understand your ‘right to win’ in a given market. Usually, consumers in that market haven’t been waiting with bated breath for your brand to show up. They will have established alternatives to meet their needs within the category.

You need to have a granular understanding of what it is you need to do to achieve cut-through; for example, how you will out-perform your competitors or how you will establish a new need that is currently not being met by existing offerings.

You need to galvanise all the resources at your disposal, including your agency partners to deliver against this market position.

For a global brand, this will mean fast transfer of best practice both internally and from your agency. However, you must make sure that the local agency is empowered to amplify a proven campaign in order to ensure it resonates locally. People need to feel that you are talking directly to them; not that you are talking to everyone. So you need to invest in doing the necessary background to understand how to make this happen.

Brands should use insights from the local markets they are targeting in order to inform their campaigns. It is pretty hard to unlock a great emotional hook, and tie it back to your brand and what it offers, if you don’t have an understanding of what motivates consumers in that particular category; or what incremental need, occasion or mood-state you can successfully target.

Don’t just produce ‘lowest common denominator’ category generic work. Make sure you understand the different ways in which your brand can ‘win’ in the hearts and minds of the target market, and then marshal all the resources at your disposal against these key factors.


Matt Barwell, Britvic

Britvic CMO on optimum international agency structures

Samuel Joy

  Q: What approach should brands be taking in international markets and how should you organise agency relationships accordingly? In my experience, consistency is best achieved when a global brand team works with a lead strategic agency to ensure the brand purpose and communications strategy, along with brand guidelines, are clearly understood by the local […]


There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Agreed! Today, more than ever, brands can and must realign their marketing for a global stage that features a diverse mix of local performance demands. By systematizing global frameworks, truths, guidelines and tools, then creating a common marketing vocabulary between global and local teams, marketing leaders can craft global messages that make customers feel at home — no matter what language they’re delivered in.

  2. Alex Konrad 2 Apr 2015

    It seems that one of the greatest rebuttals to a globalized strategy is cost. It is expensive to conduct powerful market research on the domestic front, and when adding a global approach, the cost is exponentially increased. Companies have to realize that whether or not they invest in a globalized strategy up front, the costs will inevitably resurface in terms of restructuring global campaigns, or profit loss from a poor initial approach. Taking an initial, holistic approach to a global campaign not only shows maturity from the company, but shows the potential customers that the company is addressing a more localized, personal approach.

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