MEDIA: Why global firms need local media
Brands must inform international work with regional knowledge.
Pepsi executives were baffled when their 'Come alive with the Pepsi generation' campaign was scorned in Taiwan - until they were told it translated locally as 'Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead'.
Then there was Kentucky Fried Chicken's 'Finger licking good' slogan - which in China means 'Eat your fingers off'.
In South America, meanwhile, sales of the Chevrolet Nova were not enhanced by its literal Spanish meaning of 'doesn't go', and the Ford Pinto - Brazilian slang for 'tiny male genitals' - was understandably shunned by local men.
The history of global marketing is littered with such legendary disasters.
Communicating with an international audience comprising different languages, cultures and degrees of marketing receptivity is fraught with all manner of potential pitfalls.
Matching the branding and creative execution to regional tastes is only the first problem. Planning and buying a campaign can require the organisation and local intelligence of a military strategist, not to mention the tact of an international diplomat.
The key to success in any media campaign lies in clear communication between client and agency, but it is even more crucial in international marketing.
Aside from establishing the brief, the media agency has to marry its own structure with the client's international structure and regional objectives using its own international network and, sometimes, managing the client's preferred local buying agency in any given country.
In structuring their media activities, agencies have to consider whether the client is centralised, with media strategy and budget dictated by its headquarters, or whether it is decentralised, with perhaps scores of autonomous business divisions, each with their own marketing budget and media preferences.
For a small number of clients targeting common audiences of, say, international businessmen or music fans, a campaign can be bought from a central hub using international media such as The Economist or MTV. But even centralised media strategies typically require the involvement of local planning and buying.
One example is Visa, which manages its European media strategy from its EU headquarters in London in conjunction with agency Media-edge:cia. Visa's brand marketing has to dovetail with the local activities of the member banks that use and own the Visa brand.
Diane Scott, vice-president of the firm's brand strategy and communications, says the centralised approach works well for Visa because its media strategy is focused on TV, providing opportunities for bulk buying across Europe.
Scott only has to deal with one agency account director in London who oversees the whole European strategy, minimising Visa's management overheads.
"We can't afford to have local teams managing the brand in each market," says Scott.
Although based in London, she stresses that her team is multinational and multicultural: "It gives us a common-sense check when evaluating media plans. If you come with a cultural filter, you are going to miss out on opportunities or do the wrong things."
Centralisation retains control and uniformity over the media plan and the brand communication - a key requirement for Visa, whose customers tend to do a lot of international travel and are therefore exposed to the brand in different countries.
Microsoft's Xbox operates a similar centralised media strategy, although product managers in each territory do have input into local media plans.
European advertising manager Harvey Eagle says it is important not to suppress local expertise with a centralised approach that is too rigid.
Nevertheless, as a new brand, Eagle says getting consistency in marketing strategy for Xbox across all markets was vitally important and could only be achieved through a centralised approach.
The ability to negotiate attractive pan-European media deals with the likes of MTV is a major benefit of centralisation for Xbox. But Eagle warns that one needs to be judicious in selecting such media. "Some media owners sell you complete pan-European coverage, but in fact the weighting may be quite disproportionate in some countries," he says. "In that case you may as well have just bought on a regional basis and cherry-picked the territories that are important to you."
Centralisation may allow more control, but the downside is that it may not give due weight to inherent variances in local markets, even within a comparatively homogeneous region such as Europe, which may require different strategic thinking.
Swedish sanitary goods firm SCA, which owns the Bodyform and Velvet toilet tissue brands, operates a decentralised European marketing strategy out of a London hub.
SCA senior brand manager Nick Dudman believes that it is inefficient to manage strategy from a central point and that local knowledge is fundamental.
"Ideally, the audiences for global brands and their advertising campaigns will vary little across boundaries," says Dudman. "However, media conditions, regulations and lifestyles do vary vastly from country to country and local knowledge is required to take advantage of specific local market conditions."
As an illustration, he points out that local knowledge of the UK media market would lead him to buy against housewives with kids rather than 25- to 44-year-old women.
The principles of SCA's European marketing strategy are formed in London between its central brand team and Carat International. From this, guidelines including the preferred weightings of different media types to be used are disseminated to local brand managers. However, the individual market strategies are determined locally in conjunction with local Carat offices.
Philip Reddaway, head of communications planning for Carat, plans for SCA's UK market. He says that, aside from the creative being produced centrally, in many ways it is just like working on a domestic account.
He admits that local thinking that differs from the guidelines can sometimes lead to a contentious debate with the central hub.
One such debate was around the UK team's desire to have Bodyform sponsor Home and Away on Five. UK restrictions on the advertising of feminine hygiene products on daytime TV prevent the use of pack shots or straplines.
This meant that only a 'sponsored by' branding message could be used, which didn't conform with central guidelines requiring product communication.
Where a business operates decentrally, there can be a problem persuading local budget-holders to part with funds to support a central marketing strategy, particularly where it involves global media deals.
"You may recommend MTV, but a local brand manager might argue that MTV isn't that strong in their region and they would prefer to spend the money elsewhere," says Brian Jacobs, Universal McCann's EMEA regional director.
"Of course, it might really be because they didn't think of it first."
To overcome this, Jacobs says it is crucial to build support from the bottom up. This approach also ensures that any local opportunities are exploited around the central strategy. "If we're advocating the use of Eurosport, there may be local event sponsorships which will tie in with the TV campaign," he says.
Compared with planning and buying a domestic campaign, researching markets and measuring media audiences is a vastly more complex matter in global marketing. Although enormous strides have been made in recent times, Jacobs says lack of detailed independent research can make it difficult to make a marketing case.
Consequently, agencies have had to build their own research databases.
Universal McCann's Media in Mind measures attitudes, opinions, moods and responses to different media across 50 international markets. This is supported with qualitative research from local focus groups.
But such proprietary data is jealously guarded, presenting a problem when the lead agency is instructed by the client to use a local independent agency that doesn't belong to its network. And this isn't the only reason why agencies prefer to use their own international network.
"Using other agencies means we don't have total control," says Jacobs.
"If they don't take our advice and want to do something else, then there's nothing we can do about it."
Melanie Varley, Mediaedge:cia's chief client officer for the EMEA region, also cites lack of control as a problem in managing independents, but recognises that there can be benefits for both parties.
"They will benefit from our international expertise and tools and we can teach them how the client likes to work," says Varley. "We in turn benefit from their local knowledge. Often they become our affiliate, which means we don't have to set up a local operation ourselves." Like agencies, some media owners are organising themselves to address global media planning requirements.
Clear Channel has set up Clear Channel Solutions, offering a one-stop shop for creating a cross-border outdoor campaign. It has commissioned research through The Henley Centre to help advertisers understand national differences in receptivity to media.
The research showed that in Europe, northern countries respond better than southern countries to a two-way conversational approach, are more open to foreign influence, have a greater media awareness and higher expectations of corporate integrity. Southern countries prefer a purely informational approach.
Such research may identify global marketing trends, but too often it is an over-used tool at the expense of on-the-ground insight and intuition, according to Heather Fullerton, managing director of BlueberryFrog, an Amsterdam cross-border brand marketing agency. "The creative planning process has been neutered by pseudo-science," says Fullerton. "Planners should spend more time in the wild to see how consumers act in their natural habitat, not in focus groups, not on questionnaires, and not hot wired to a psychologist and a laptop."
XBOX MET WITH LOCAL TEAMS TO CREATE CONSISTENT REGIONAL STRATEGIES
Media agency: Universal McCann
Campaign: 'Play More'
Markets: 16 European countries
Media used: TV, online, magazines, outdoor, ambient.
Xbox was launched with two objectives: first, to establish a strong, differentiated brand position in the games console market, and to drive high volume sales during the key Christmas period; second, to connect with the brand-savvy and discerning gaming youth of Europe, it had to penetrate youth culture and their relevant media spaces.
Client and agency structure
Xbox operates through a centralised European structure based in its EMEA headquarters in London, but maintains a marketing resource in all key markets with responsibility for the implementation of the communication plans. Universal McCann mirrored the client structure with a lead strategic hub based in London and teams within each of the network offices.
The working process
To ensure knowledge and 'buy-in' from the local client and agency teams a series of initial briefing meetings were attended by all markets including the client, the then-European creative agency BBH and Universal McCann.
Following the briefings, focus groups were held in all key markets to understand the interplay between media, gaming and youth culture in the lives of the target audience. From the results, a regional strategy was developed which contained the marketing and communication objectives, the target audience profile, the core consumer brand and media insights, a 'single strategic thought' that drove all media placement, guidelines for execution and campaign measurement criteria. The regional strategy was shared with the local client and agency teams through face-to-face briefings.
The aim was not to stifle local creativity and insight, but to ensure a consistency of thinking and strategic direction across all markets.
The key focus of the strategy was to place Xbox in the times, places and moods that trigger gaming. While this was relevant across all markets, the strategy had to reflect local cultural and media nuances by using local client and agency expertise. Urinal ads, beer mats and kebab wrappers may work in the pub-based world of the UK, but would not resonate as strongly with Spanish and Italian youth. Ideas and best practice could be shared between countries.
Xbox sold 17% more consoles than PlayStation 2 during its equivalent launch period. By Christmas, Xbox passed one million console sales in the UK, France and Germany alone, according to ChartTrack. Xbox had a 19% UK average share for the final quarter of 2002, which includes Christmas, compared with 11% for Nintendo's GameCube, according to ChartTrack.
VISA'S LOCAL AGENCIES DEVELOP PAN-EUROPEAN MEDIA STRATEGY
Client: Visa International (EU)
Media agency: Mediaedge:cia
Campaign: 'The Future Takes Visa'
Markets: 11 European countries
Media used: TV, press, outdoor, radio, cinema, ambient
With the potential for a cashless society increasing, Visa realised that consumers were unaware of its innovative position in areas such as secure online payment. In addition,outside the UK, credit cards are not particularly popular in many European countries. There had been rapid commoditisation of the market and Visa was being outspent by its main rival, MasterCard.
The objectives were to establish a distinctive positioning for Visa as a leader in internet payment mechanisms, increase preference for the Visa brand among issuing banks, and drive transaction usage.
Client and agency structure
The campaign was overseen by Visa EU's brand strategy and communications team with the involvement of two other functions - brand market planning and sponsorship and properties.
Four London-based senior brand managers have responsibility for communication activities within the EU countries. This includes the brand management relationship with local Visa sales offices and issuing member banks. Mediaedge:cia's central agency team was structured to mirror Visa's brand management approach with a strategic planning team led by a managing partner, responsible for the overall client relationship.
The working process
Research showed that Visa card-holders had a more confident attitude to life and used their card more often than MasterCard holders. Through creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi, a campaign theme was developed targeting trendsetting, bold consumers. The concept was communicated to Mediedge:cia with a brief to reach these people when they were in a frame of mind to use Visa, such as visiting a supermarket or planning a holiday. These situations might be different from one country to another. Local agencies came to London for network days to be briefed on the concept and to get their input. From this, pan-European marketing principles and a media strategy was developed. These were communicated to, and challenged by, Visa's regional brand managers and the agencies and member banks in each territory. The media strategy was then implemented by the local agencies.
Visa has become the most preferred brand in Italy, Spain and Turkey. According to Hall & Partners, the Visa brand - previously intangible and undifferentiated - had become an actively preferred brand that was seen by consumers as 'modern', 'forward-thinking' and 'innovative.' The campaign delivered high awareness and some of the highest salience scores ever seen.
This article was first published on Marketing
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