Going Global

I’m working on (another) pitch, and this time we’ve gone global and thus (for the first time at my current agency) I’m working quite closely with our (very impressive) international team.

The first thing that struck me was how embarrassingly woeful it is that my foreign language skills are, how shall I phrase it… non existent. In a room full of poly-linguists, you feel pretty inadequate pretty quickly when you realise that your colleagues are happily carrying out an elegant business conversation (if there is such a thing) in what is their second or third language. This isn’t really going anywhere, except maybe an excuse for me to say that I really think we need to overhaul the priority given to foreign languages in British schools. But I digress.

What really got me thinking was the notion of an ‘international communications strategy’. One of the purposes of our first session today was to begin to craft the European direction, a platform linking our key brand and consumer insight, off of which all communication ideas will be sprung. There’s nothing remotely unusual in this – it’s standard practice at most media agencies – but, for a local market boy like myself, it felt very unusual to be doing this it such a macro level.

Is it really possible, even in this age of glocalisation (I love a good portmanteau) to devise a single strategy that will really and truly connect with consumers in markets as diverse as rural Romania and suburban Paris? I find it hard to believe so. Surely if your platform is rooted in key consumer and market insights, this will be inherently different across varying cultures?

Maybe I’m not getting it. But I would argue that campaigns are always going to be more effective when planned and managed locally, with genuine local insights and expertise. Sure, this may be cost-prohibitive for some. But for the big multinationals, those companies that seemingly often plan in this way, this shouldn’t be an issue. It seems to me that ‘international’ arms of agencies would be best deployed in a client management and market co-ordination role, rather than farming out cumbersome mandatory ‘strategies’ than risk irrelevance in local markets.

But like I say, maybe I’m not getting it.


9 Responses to “Going Global”

  1. Charles Frith Says:

    I’m glad you raised this point Doug. First off, it is humbling to see people holding a meeting in their second language which is the only one that the English participants know. Even thinking about say a Korean, a Thai and Malay arguing the finer points of strategy in English is disconcerting. English is the lingua Franca for business and so over time it just becomes normal for those participants. But frankly even German DJ’s speak better English than most English do, so good point. (Indians have the most glorious English for the record).

    You’re absolutely right about the incongruous nature of planning macro strategic ideas to fit both rural Romanian and metropolitan Parisian markets (good example). The thing is, that think global act local was never meant for marketing but was snapped up by marketeers who faced problems that the seemingly pithy saying solved.


    I’ll be frank. Think global act local(ly) is a cost saver. It’s complete nonsense in the vast majority of cases and is only there to keep the economies of scale that large networks will then benefit from.

    Think local act local is the most effective route for a marketing communications message. Anyone who tells you otherwise is looking at the marcomms profit line. It’s for this reason that the lowest common denominator flies through the focus groups and gets the seal of approval. Anything that rocks the boat means non linear communications and higher production costs. A topic most clients and agencies prefer not to discuss.

  2. Gagey Says:

    I think the sentiments of glocalisation / ‘think global act local’ are sound. However, as you both suggest the lazy marketing community has taken this principle and used it to it’s own ends without actually embracing the thoughts. (A bit like other meta themes knocking around … If I here another person saying they’ve ‘thin sliced’ the challenge as an excuse for not being bothered to think…

    It should be possible for an idea to be global, but it’s execution to be local and in recognition of specific communities’ practices, norms, language / semiotics, and ultimately value creation. And it is true that (for example) urban 15-25 year olds in the ‘developed world’ have more in common with each other than their parents.

    The trouble is that most ‘ideas’ in our industry (particularly from media agencies) tend to be executional, which is why we tend to see horrible ‘blanding’ campaigns that are more about efficiency.

    Ich liebe es

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Global strategy, local interpretation doesn’t seem that bizarre a concept.

    As ‘local’ planners, perhaps we’re not often privy to other nations’ interpretations (or the subtle nuances thereof) of larger global brand strategies.

    I’ve always thought there was an interesting role (for someone)in local agencies, pulling together and distilling the various worldwide activations of larger global strtategies, for wider dissemination…

  4. The Dead Artist Says:

    Local, local, local.

  5. NP Says:

    God yes, local please! Human nature may be universal, buy the quirks of execution should usually be localised I think. Unless you’re going to create something jawdroppingly, and based on business insight rather than consumer. But it needs to uninversally brilliant – how often does that happen?

    If I sound grumpy, I am. We’re in division 1, with 10 points to make up…

  6. Laurel Delaney Says:

    I’d start with a local strategy (template) and then tailor it to meet the needs for each global market entry. After all, you want to satisfy your customers, right?

  7. Doug Says:

    thanks everyone for commenting, it’s clearly an area that people have an opinion about.

    i still believe devising a global strategy that’s rooted in a single consumer insight is not the way forward. it may work in some markets, it won’t work in others, but nowhere will the connection be as deep as if you a genuinely unique and relevant insight devised by local thinkers who are wired into the cultural and social issues of their market.

    but, as a few people have said, it’s easy and it costs less (up front, at least), to adopt a one size fits all model (and given the transient career paths of most in marketing, many are fixated with short-term performance… but that’s another post in its own right!)

  8. tiffany Says:

    Hi Doug,

    It’s a tough one because all the multinationals are adopting this global comms strategy process and it’s difficult as an agency to rock the boat when you can forge ahead with ‘global’ planning. Some clients are talking about toolkits or templates that are sent out to their regional divisions, but for the large part they get ignored by the local markets.
    I think there’s a problem with this for a couple more reasons:
    1. These toolkits often centre on a TV commercial that is supposed to work globally, which local markets are meant to then ‘activate’ – which is contradictory to media neutral thinking in the first place.
    2. Agencies in ‘local’ markets are not satisfied with being activators so they spend a great deal of their time creating alternative campaigns which end up confusing the ad messages, or they feel frustrated and don’t produce their best work.

    Finally – I miss the regional variation in the brands I grew up with! What happened to marvelling over the different size, shape and advertising for coke cans in every different country? I always thought that was an interesting marker of cultures..

    I digress. thanks for the platform to rant!

  9. Doug Says:

    hey tiffany, thanks for popping by

    love the comment about regional editions of brands… the coke cans are a great example, for me it was always fanta or orangina though (not sure why the obsession with oranges, but there you go!)

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