Ads that travel – can a global ad be truly local?

by | February 6, 2018 12:25 am

Developing global ads that work in multiple markets is a huge challenge for marketers.  The dream of reaching a world-wide audience with just one ad is very rarely realized, and very often, something important gets lost in translation.

But for every ad that travels well  data suggests that many do not. Analysis from the Millward Brown Link database shows that ads that perform exceptionally well in their country of origin do not usually replicate their success in other countries.  Says Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst for Millward Brown, “The world is not yet a global village, and in all likelihood it’s not going to become one”.  In other words, although there may be global brands, there is not one global culture, and brands who adapt a creative idea to different markets must have a thorough understanding of the cultural differences that come into play.

To create communications that can travel, marketers must follow a three step process:  determine the global brand promise based on applying the unique product benefits to a universal human need; identify the marketing task that faces the brand in each geography; and implement the creative idea with sensitivity to differences across countries and cultures.

For example, the value placed on the concept of “face” in China makes certain kinds of humour unacceptable in advertising. (In China, to get a laugh at someone else’s expense causes him to lose face.) In the Middle East, it’s inappropriate to use dogs in advertising because they are seen as dirty. Clearly, sensitive topics such as sexuality and religion present issues, but so too do some seemingly more innocuous elements such as numbers and colours.

Though cultural differences can create pitfalls for advertisers, they may also present opportunities to enhance a brand’s message.  But one size does not fit all. Both your media plan and your ad executions must be developed with the local media environment in mind.

A great example of a global ad is Heineken’s “Walk in Fridge” which has been used in many countries and went viral on YouTube with over 5 million views.  The underlying truth and humour of the ad resonates with many around the world, tapping into the underlying human truth that men and women have different interests and preoccupations; and it’s executed in such a way that it is readily appreciated by people in different countries and cultures.  A local example of an ad that would travel across borders is the Three Crown Milk ad and 9mobile’s Easy starter ad featuring Francis Odega, with both these ads tapping into fundamental human truths.

Finding one ad that suits all markets is rare indeed, but with due diligence, campaigns can be developed that will work effectively across borders and cultures, allowing advertisers to realise great efficiencies while establishing seamless brand positioning.  Yet often the returns from a globally consistent approach may be outweighed by lack of local relevance.  Do global brands need to strive for global campaigns or might they be better served by a more regional or local approach? 

Mike Umogun

Michael Umogun|