There has been a growing desire among brands to take a political or social stance in their campaigns.

Marketers feel that connecting the brand with relevant causes and messages not only is their duty, but as their product interacts with millions of people every day, they believe that they are in a great position and scale to positively change the world.

As creatives, our role is to help brands to identify the right and relevant connections and communicate that with authenticity, and in the right tone.

In fact, I have always made a point to dedicate a small portion of my time for any client I work with to help connecting them with meaningful messages that do good in the world.

But identifying the right connections between a specific purpose and the brand is not easy. Without a credible history of advocating a certain cause, brands will only appear as opportunists.

Another key issue is the choice of media. Message with a purpose do not always fit into the traditional media format where it’s more a one-sided communication and not a dialogue with consumers. With limited length, lack of context or limitations in square inches, traditional media also often force brands to over-simplify or over-generalise their messages.

Nevertheless, we should continue to encourage brands to have a purpose, and we should also help to make sure that it aligns with the brands’ values, with messages that have been carefully crafted so they appear in all the right tones and play the right role. We should remind brands that they need to remain humble and wise and encourage conversations and inspire people rather than adopting a didactic tone.

Last but not the least, be sure to make it a long-term commitment, and not just blindly following what’s been trending.

I have gathered below some of the examples of brands investing in a relevant cause that engages with consumers. Whether they have been executed well or not? I like to hear what you think.

I also like to hear if you have any examples from local brands that had successfully achieved similar goals.

Gillette “The Best Men Can Be”

The brand attempted to take an ancient and highly distinctive slogan “Gillette, the best a man can get” and revitalise it for a new era. The film calls on men to improve themselves by standing up against bullying, sexism and harassment.

Volvo “Defiant Pioneers”

In 2018, Volvo partnered with Sky to produce a short film series entitled “Defiant Pioneers”, exploring the remarkably resilient recesses of the human mind. Chapter 6 of the series is a film called “Unseen Ocean” in support of the fight against plastic pollution in our oceans. In 2019, Volvo sustained the message and released a children’s book of the same theme. The book is available on Amazon and all proceeds will go towards City Kids Surfing, the non-profit founded by primary school teacher Tom Franklin, who featured in Volvo’s “Unseen Ocean” videos.

Heineken “Open Your World

The Heineken’s “Open Your World” campaign challenges Brits to break down barriers and find common ground with others who have opposing views.

Nike “Dream Crazy”

Nike launched “Dream Crazy” campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary activity for the “Just Do It” campaign. The film features athletes including tennis star Serena Williams, American footballers Odell Beckham Jr and Shaquem Griffin, skateboarder Lacey Baker and the controversial Colin Kaepernick.

Nike “Dream Crazier”

Nike’s answer to the follow up on the “Dream Crazy” campaign. It features a voiceover by Serena Williams and celebrates female athletes who have broken barriers.

The Body Shop “In Our Hands”

At the start of 2019, The Body Shop is putting “activism at the heart of its brand strategy”and turn its stores into “activist hubs” and attract more visitors to its shops.

Lush “Spycops”

In 2018, Lush launched the campaign, promoted using the hashtag #spycops, with Lush storefronts decorated with fake police tape emblazoned with the slogan: “Police have crossed the line.” The brand claimed that the campaign had a specific aim to make changes to the undercover policing inquiry, and to address “a controversial branch of political undercover policing that ran for many years before being exposed.”

Dove

Dove’s launched “Crown” in partnership with Kelly Rowland, at the GRAMMY Awards in 2019. The music video centred around self-esteem and confidence.

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood has long stood for what she believes in over the years, from green energy to freedom of speech to anti-fracking, and this was one of the many manifestations of the campaigns she involved in.

When it comes to building a global campaign, most people will naturally think of visual and copy content – expressing the universal truth with locally relevant images and articulating the global messages with copy that resonates with the local audiences. But telling the brand story isn’t just about what images and copy, an aspect of a global campaign that not many people invest in is how the brand “sounds”.

I am not referring to designing just a sonic element or trigger that appears in the campaign – the Intel’s “Bong”, the Nokia’s “Grade Vals”, or Motorola’s “Hello Moto”. These are valuable addition to the execution that could add memorability and longevity to a campaign, but they are not enough to help communicate the emotional side of the brand message. Consumers have also entered into a truly connected world where the use of sound cohesively across all touchpoints – online, offline, events and a diverse form of customer interactions. The sonic branding has to act as the glue for communications across time, territories and touchpoints, locally and globally.

The recent manifestation of the HSBC’s “Together We Thrive” global platform perhaps have done just that. A series of commercials have been launched communicating the message of “shared prosperity” (inspired by the Chinese name of HSBC 滙豐) and the diverse nature of the brand, building on the visual identity that the outdoor campaign kicked off last year. To allow the core brand message to be flexed in each local region, a bespoke piece of music has been composed, created by Jean-Michel Jarre, that allows endless local interpretations expressing intricate nuances.

Orchestrating a global campaign requires great leadership and vision from the top, and complete collaboration at the local level. Music can be a shared “language” that everyone can contribute and build on.

On an execution level, music, rather than just an add-on to an idea, can also become a platform to support multiple activation between customers and the brand. I am looking forward to seeing how this will develop in the coming months.

The Sound of HSBC series:

“Orchestral” edit

“Stadium” Edit

“Connected” Edit

“In Flight” Edit

“Wayfoong” Edit

“Mindfulness” Edit

“Inspiration” Edit

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There’s no doubt that the role of creatives has changed dramatically. This year, we have seen evidences that companies of all kinds are seeking a different kind of creatives to fit to the changing model that they operate in. WPP has announced their repositioning as a “creative transformation company”, one of their new focuses is to help clients in “omnichannel” commerce and marketplaces. Global marketers, such as Unilever, Adidas and Coty, want a simpler, faster, more joined-up approach by bringing some of the key talents, including creatives, closer to the brand.

The new breed of creatives is now being sort after not just by traditional agencies (or agency networks), but consultancies (dare I say “cagency”), media agencies, media owners, co-creation partners, and in-house.

But instead of thinking the role of creatives have changed because of the changing landscape of the business, I think that it’s the other way around.

The advertising business hasn’t changed fundamentally. We have.

Creatives no longer think, plan, collaborate, produce the same way as we did before.

We think holistically

While the overarching big idea is still the soul of it all, the choice of media and how they interact with each other has become increasingly important.

Today, the real craft is not just to take a complicated idea and reduce it to a long form TV commercial, but to make sure the message builds up throughout the consumer’s journey. What motivates us is no longer just creating that one single piece of masterpiece but constructing the intricate relations between each channel.

Having a holistic view of user experience is increasingly requested from creatives, as we are the ones who should be mastering the “how” and “why”, not just the “what” of communications.

Taking that to one level, the ultimate satisfaction comes from knowing that the idea can also be reinterpreted in different culture and market fluidly and with such richness that the impact multiplies. In order to do that, we often don’t work within a traditional creative team structure – we collaborate with creatives across any discipline, often across borders.

We act fluidly

We respond to a brief by understanding the business problems and come up with creative solutions to make that happen. The traditional format of a creative brief that limits executional possibilities no longer works, as our real challenges are creating non-traditional solutions, rather than limiting to a narrow brief.

We no longer tie ourselves up to specific titles. Copywriters are more than just crafting messages with the power of words, but the ability to tell stories through whatever means, and visualise how messages can we carried over to another medium. Anyone who judge copy just by looking at it on one single medium do not understand how real copy of today works.

We have a purpose

Brands need a purpose. Creatives do too. If Nike’s purpose was just all about making great shoes, then there won’t be a space to “dream crazy”. And the idea to keep the brand relevant by reinforcing the brand value of giving people a brave voice through an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, among other strong-minded athletes, would never have seen the light of day.

Seeking out the right purpose to apply on our clients’ brands is becoming one of the skills that creatives should have. It’s not about just any purpose, but mapping and matching the relevant ones for the client takes genuine creativity. In a way, we transform the mundane selling into something redeeming and enriching.

We keep changing

Will 2019 brings to us a whole new angle of changes? Will the in-house creative team models continue to work (we are already seeing how Intel’s in-house function has scaled back, and Unilever is looking doubtful over the negative impacts on creativity). Will increased involvements of technologies such AI and VR means creativity and our opportunities will become broader, and our scope will be greater to make an impact for brands?

Things are changing and will continue to evolve. There is no such thing as a static model now. What changes have you experienced so far? I like to hear from you.

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Advertising is a reflection of our times. It always has been.

Advertising of brands, like music and movies, can be a social message in itself. It influences how we look, what we eat and sometimes how we see ourselves.

So when brands join force with another global and cultural phenomenon, such as sports, it can be even more powerful.

Brands want to be more “human”, and are a lot more open-minded to have a point of view. They understand in order to do this genuinely they need to allow people to have a voice.

Athletes understand their roles in the society and are more authoritative than ever to choose what brand they like to use as a platform to allow them to have a voice, and represent their values.

But in a commercial world, brands have a lot to be accounted for.

Brands have every pressure from the shareholders to invest only in messages that guaranteed sales growth.

Brands have every right to avoid associating with sensitive political issues.

Brands have all the reasons to communicate a message that appeals to “everyone”.

Thank goodness Nike is not such a brand.

The recent Nike campaignmakes no direct reference to any political viewpoints, but by featuring Colin Kaepernick (among Lebron James, Serena Williams and a slew of other athletes), the association to his protest against racial injustice, and decided to kneel rather than stand for the national anthem before a 2016 National Football League preseason game is clear.

What’s so compelling about the Nike message is not because it’s charged with one of the most sensitive political messages at the moment, and confronting face to face with one of the most controversial leaders in American history, it’s the pure fact that this is so true to what we know about the brand – someone who has the courage to speak his/her mind, and giving people of any background the space to expression theirs.

Not every brand can do this though. Any brand who hasn’t got that long established history of credential and integrity, will come out feeling sheer opportunistic.

The clever approach of Nike is that it does not have to express a single point of view but just create a stage for the broad range of people to express the breadth of their standpoints. In the process, bring people of many different backgrounds together.

It makes the brand feels more human, an advocate of freedom of speech rather than siding with one point of view.

True, after the news went viral, it pulled waves of both support and backlash, even boycott. The brand’s shares dipped in reaction to the news. But on the other hand, the campaign also received millions of dollars of media exposure. Perhaps all these have fulfilled the brand’s calculated cost benefit analysis, in communicating the message of an inclusive world for all.

Even if some people don’t agree with what you are saying, they will appreciate that you have the courage to say it and speak up.

Perhaps it’s really time for brands to believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.

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When I started writing this blog I asked myself what it should focus on. Should it be about branding – adapting the brand identity, developing the Chinese brand name (from the legal entity name to the much more complex consumer- facing naming architecture)? Should it be about product development strategy – adapting the product from the ground up to fit the market, and consumers’ lifestyle and aspirations, as well as reflect the competition? Or should it be about making marketing content fit the unique media landscape with specific local brand messaging and content strategy? And what about the more operational side, like establishing local partnerships, sales channels and even recruiting local talent?

The truth is, when you’re marketing a brand outside its home country, you face all sorts of challenges – and they’re all intertwined with each other. And nowhere is that more true than China.

In all my experience of adapting global brands for Chinese consumers, I can’t think of a single example where it wasn’t necessary to change positioning and marketing mix in a big way. I’ve transformed product positioning of consumer products like Kit Kat from a self-indulgent treat to a sharing sensation among friends. I’ve searched far and wide to find spokespeople for global brands like Lux and American Express who can truly resonate with a local audience and still stay in sync with the essence of those brands.

Of course, none of this precludes the eternal debate about how feasible or desirable it is to be globally consistent. Or the need to remember that ‘consistency’ doesn’t equal a one-size-fits-all literal interpretation of a tagline. How should HSBC speak in the same tone as the rest of the world as ‘The World’s Local Bank 环球金融 地方智慧’ (HSBC had changed its global brand platform to ‘World’s Leading International Bank’ since 2011) but express consumer benefits in a really direct way? How should a fast-moving fashion brand like H&M stand out by toning down its price point and promoting its trend credentials instead? How do British brands like Pret A Manger find their purpose and emotional attachments in the context of the local culture, so they do more than just sell food?

To make brands relevant and trigger loyalty that adds up to a sustainable price premium, global brands have to get in step with local cultural imperatives and operational realities. At the risk of over-simplifying or making sweeping generalisations, here are some thoughts about the differences they can expect to find in China.

Are you talking to me?

Language is perhaps the most tangible. One of the first tasks of the marketing plan is to develop the brand name (an equivalent of the global brand identity). That’s before you even start to develop and adapt the brand proposition, key messaging and overall content. To succeed, you need to understand both global intent and local context. If you blindly follow the conventional idea of consistency and ignore local nuances, you’ll almost certainly fail.

When it comes to Chinese names for global brands, going for the safe option of the phonetic equivalent will end up sounding like everyone else. But over-rationalizing could leave you with a name that reflects the marketing brief rather than sounding like something born natively for the local market. In 2017, Airbnb relaunched in China with a new Chinese brand name 爱彼迎(pronounced ài bi yíng) that means ‘welcoming each other with love’. But reaction has been mixed, with many already comparing the company’s strategy with other brands who have failed in China. According to AdAge, Airbnb spent a year deciding on the Chinese characters that made up the name, with brand consultancy Labbrand consumer testing over 1,000 possibilities. Yet the result has been widely criticized in the press and on social media.

Airbnb’s launch campaign in China

Names can be very subjective. So use clear criteria to help you choose. Once you’re down to a shortlist, research can be useful. Carefully testing names with your target audience will help you gauge appeal and weed out any unanticipated negative reactions. Research can’t tell you everything, and it shouldn’t be the only thing you use . Nor should it stop you taking calculated risks or simply trusting your instinct. But it does help guide decision-making and build consensus among your stakeholders.

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it

Another big difference for brands in China is how to talk about benefits. They need to be prominent, but brands also need to talk about what they mean for the greater good, not just the individual. , The western idea of reinforcing ‘what I want, and how I feel’ irrespective of societal consequences doesn’t work. So the brand communications of Holiday Inn Express, an InterContinental Hotels Group brand, emphasize ‘smart choice’ rather than just ‘efficiency’. Johnnie Walker’s ‘Keep Walking’ proposition that emphasizes endless striving for personal progression has to be ‘shared’ and ‘recognized’ among peers. Mercedes Benz, one of the best-selling brands in China, elegantly fused its global positioning with a Chinese declaration of ambition in a recent campaign, executed as a six-page gatefold ad with the headline ‘For the world, we open a new page’.

Mercedes Benz shows its presence in the Chinese market through heavy advertising spend, including this gatefold spread launched in January 2018.

It’s not just how you say it, but where

Comparisons between Western markets and China often focus on the difference in internet penetration and smartphone adoption. But the popularity of smartphones has increased dramatically in China. And digital platforms are evolving fast to become part of Chinese consumers’ daily lives.

China’s internet economy has now raced ahead of the West’s, making China a truly mobile-first market. Besides the sheer size that goes with a billion-plus population, it’s also ahead on features. Consumers in China can now use the internet, specifically WeChat 微信(Pronounced Weixin in Mandarin), to do an extraordinary number of things. Apart from messaging (the key feature when the brand launched in 2011), it’s evolved to include voice and video calls, integrated news and public service announcements, gifting, ride-hailing, food delivery, doctor/dentist bookings, and even visa applications. It integrates social media, search and e-commerce, all inside one walled garden. A recent official report estimates that, as of September 2017, an average 902 million users log in to WeChat daily, up 17% year-on-year, and send 38 billion messages.

WeChat’s reach is appealing for global brands. But it also makes it easier to do business in China by bypassing stringent licence requirements. On the other hand, its multi-disciplinary nature makes it incredibly challenging to create appropriate content fundamentally different to the fragmented content in the West.

As a start, an official presence on WeChat can help global brands control their marketing message in China, create personalised interactions with their audience and directly manage customer relationships through the app. All of that could have a huge impact on brand loyalty if they handle it with care. Chinese consumers can discover and find out about brands and their products, interact with trusted friends and buy items all through one platform. So content needs to fulfill long-term brand building objectives: bridging online and offline experiences, creating a distinctive tone of voice, acting as a customer service with social listening functions, and creating a seamless buying experience.

WeChat is extending its reach to a version for business communication called Enterprise WeChat. Among other things, it lets employees track their annual leave days and expenses, and clock in and out. To underline the scale of adoption, DiDi ChuXing, the latest brand success in China, has encouraged its 7,000 staff to communicate almost exclusively on Enterprise WeChat.

Don’t just spot differences, celebrate them

Chinese consumers are increasingly sensitive to how global brands behave in the market. Brands that celebrate local culture while skilfully infiltrating their global essence can win their hearts, especially if they bypass one-size-fits-all global consistency to craft a local tone of voice. Global brands need a ‘first follower’ in China to localize and lend authenticity to the brand. In 2017, Burberry chose China’s pop, movie and fashion sensation Kris Wu as their first local Key Opinion Leader (KOL). That opened up China’s millennial market, giving the brand social currency to let its message spread on the many social commerce platforms.

Another powerful tactic is to allow local interpretations of global ideas. In December 2017, Adidas re-imagined its ‘Original is never finished’ creative platform with a new set of creators from all over the world including Kendall Jenner, James Harden, 21 Savage, Young Thug, and Eason Chan. It proved that when you create freely, the outcome will always be original, globally.

The global edit:

 

The Hong Kong edit:

 

The Korean edit:

 

China is complicated. Economically, socially, culturally and demographically, not to mention politically – whichever way you look at China, it bears little resemblance to the West. And it keeps getting more and more complicated. So one blog will never cover all the golden rules on marketing there.

There’s no single route to success when launching your brand in China. But it’s safe to say you need a plan that works for your brand and product category, and your ambition in the market. There are also other issues, like product extension, local legislation, censorship, and product safety (especially for food brands). All these steps are essentials you’ll have to consider before developing any marketing strategy for China.

Note: I have contributed this blog to VengaGlobal and Gala. An edited version of it had appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

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The increasing popularity of using pictures and video to share on social media is driving a huge trend for using moving images to tell the brand story.

Speaking at an event in June this year, Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn endorsed this trend and said she would put money on Facebook “becoming all video over the next five years.”

No wonder clients want videos – lots of them.

Consider these stats:

  • Facebook grew to 8 billion average daily video views from 500 million users in Q3 2015. The jump from just 4 billion video views per day in Q2 the same year was massive.
  • More than a third of Snapchat’s daily users create their own “Stories”, broadcasting photos and videos as chronological narratives, and users are watching 10 billion videos a day on the application, up from 8 billion in February this year.
  • The time people now spend watching video on Instagram has increased by more than 40 percent in the last 6 months.

And that’s just a glimpse into the burgeoning popularity of video content.

Interestingly, we’re not just watching more video, we are becoming more discerning about it too.

We expect videos to offer a more immersive experience – for example, the 360-degree videos that let us move around and explore a certain space, and interact with responsive elements. The 360-degree video from Expedia, created by 180LA in partnership with Tourism Australia, lets viewers lead their own exploration of the dramatic land- and sea-scapes of Australia. Since making its debut on YouTube in June, it has already gathered more than 3 million views.

Tourism Australia makes the best use of immersive videos

We also have a totally different perception of “quality” for videos. Instagram used to be less aesthetically forgiving than Vine, but I think the line is going to be blurred.

Then comes personalization. Amazon has just started dynamic video ads as a pilot, using browsing data to decide what creative to show prospective shoppers on the fly and tailoring itto individual users’ interests.

The media, more than ever before, is becoming the message. And it is constantly evolving. Even the greatest creative will fail if it is not delivered via the latest and most relevant visual format.

The Video Revolution

There are countless forms of video content. At one end of the spectrum, you have the most practical eLearning or product videos delivering informative / educational content, while at the other you might have highly engaging, entertaining and stylized content that tells a brand story. Then there’s everything in between. All forms of video content serve a very different purpose and certainly take a very different type of talent to create and produce.

In addition, every channel demands a different format and creative approach in reaching a high level of engagement. And as every brand is likely to adopt a multi-channel strategy, we are going to see more and more services dedicated to curation. Brands will need to have a central hub overseeing the creation of videos across all touch points and bring them all together.  After all, in the eyes of the consumers, the different types of video content should all be channelling the same brand.

So, what type of video content is suitable for your brand? What are the latest trends? Let’s take a look at some of my recent observations.

Long Form vs. Short Form

The common belief is that short videos, with text overlays instead of sound, are becoming more popular. They grab attention quickly and, when designed appropriately, they can produce an instant emotional response.

However, that doesn’t mean long videos won’t work. It’s all down to the creative idea. Brands now understand that if the content is engaging and rewarding to view, consumers will be willing to seek out the longer form.

Gautam Anand from YouTube APAC recently remarked on the trend for longer video ads in the region. The most popular ads from 2015 averaged more than four minutes. Four of the top ten YouTube videos were more than 5 minutes in duration. The single most viewed ad, from Malaysia Airlines for the Chinese New Year celebration, is a majestic 12 minutes long!

Sound vs. Silence

Voice-overs, when produced cheaply and unprofessionally, can wreck even the smartest and most beautiful content. Worse than being ineffective, they can actually damage the brand. In this case, silence is definitely golden.

Another reason why videos for social channels are increasingly being created without sound is that, in many cases, people are in locations where they can’t consume the audio. Savvy brands ensure their idea resonates even with people who haven’t turned their speakers on.

“Tiny Magic” Videos from Lostmyname can be fully enjoyed with no sound

As video consumers become more discerning, the bar for quality video is raised higher every day. Even the humble screen text is enjoying a renaissance. It’s not just about adding functional subtitles or uninspiring supertitles any more. Visualizations and overlays are getting more sophisticated all the time, raising consumer expectations, and therefore requiring us to plan ahead, to include them as part of the storytelling rather than an afterthought.

Local vs. Global

Can video content really go global? Just because you can (technologically speaking), it doesn’t mean to say you should.

If we know how crucial it is to draw emotional responses from consumers, we know that we have to reach them not just locally, but somehow personally. Does anyone really still believe this can be achieved with one version of one video that has not been even adapted or localized?

Inevitably, global brands do have finite resources, so it can be hard to create different content for every platform. Not to mention tailor-make it for each market with its different language and culture.

The key is to think global from day one – to take a brand’s core assets from the beginning and consider how the local audience will consume them.  This will allow you to think about how to tailor your content for different platforms, and how certain assets can be shared for global releases.

Localization of video content has come a long way from the days when subtitling or dubbing were the marks of a successful international brand. As an example of just how far, take Coca Cola, who recently launched Coke TV in the UK and Ireland. Instead of globally developed TV ad campaigns featuring global celebrities, the channel is aiming to target young local audiences via YouTube. Fronted by two YouTubers, Dodie and Manny, each episode will be based around the themes of gaming, sport and music. The appeal is obviously very local (or at most regional). It will be interesting to see if Coke TV rolls this tactic out globally.

CokeTV GB

CokeTV France

One thing is certain – for video content to go global, pre-production and planning are essential. Great videos, like any other content, demand the time-honored ingredients of success: a deep understanding of the consumer, superlative storytelling, and inspirational creative work. If you can combine that to deliver stories to people in each market in a new, exciting, and locally relevant way, then you will have won them – and quite possibly won the world.

choose happiness

Coca-Cola recently announced their “One Brand” strategy. A series of changes affecting the advertising campaigns for the portfolio of brands, and the detail packaging design alignments were announced. This shift from brand-specific advertising will see the brand uniting all four distinct brands – classic Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke Life, logically under one master brand marketing banner: The Coca-Cola family. The objective is to drive synergy across the portfolio.

The overriding tactic is that Coca-Cola is the only thing the company will position and give meaning to, and underneath it will sit different product variants. Each variant will be equal in the overall portfolio but “won’t have a meaning attached to them.”

Coca-Cola continuously ranked at the top in the world’s global brand rankings over the years. In 2013, according to The Best Global Brand from Interbrand, it slipped from the top spot after 13 years to third place. Perhaps it was the “wake up call” for the brand. But was the dilution of brand strength really due to its diversification into campaigns for individual product variant?

The strategy was an outcome of recent consumer research, which revealed that 5 out of 10 of consumers don’t know what differentiates each product in its portfolio. For example, people don’t know that Coke Zero has no sugar and no calories. Consumers are also unclear about the different between Coke Zero and Diet Coke.

Coca-Cola considered the company’s efforts to build personality behind its individual brands has become an obstacle to consumers’ understanding of the products.

Building meaning in the communications will not affect consumers’ understanding of the product. A brand under the brand halo itself could become an identity in its own right, as opposed to just being seen as one of the variants. I believe the heart of the matter is when the “meaning” is not connecting with what the product represents, then it ends up a waste of effort.

Product differentiation is increasingly hard for brands operating under portfolio brand strategy. From FMCG brands to service brands, the fragmentation of brand messages often causes confusion in consumers’ mind. When HSBC launched the “Personal Economy” platform for their “Premier Account”, was it distinctive enough to help consumers to clearly differentiate among the “Premier”, “Advance” and “Business” accounts? Do consumers clearly recall the commercial starring Jude Law was for Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label? What about the differences among Red Label, Black Label, Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label? How does the whole range connect with the brand message of “Keep Walking”?

The list goes on.

In the case of Coca-Cola, should the “Open Happiness” platform be given an even bigger playground with universal appeal? Or should it be changed to a more rational statement such as “Choose Happiness”?

The “One Brand” strategy will be executed on campaign level and on product level, and will affect agencies working within the framework. Some of the changes can be summarised as:

  • The newly evolved brand tagline “Choose Happiness” will be launched in Great Britain before moving to the local markets globally. It will be hugely interesting to see how the tagline could be adapted.
  • New brand campaigns will focus on the brand idea of happiness and optimism and will roll out in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Nordics and Spain.
  • All advertising campaigns from May in Northern Europe will feature all four products, with the lower and no sugar Coca-Cola variants presented in the final frames of all Coca-Cola TV ads.
  • Although all four variants will feature in future campaigns, Coke will be able to spotlight or “hero” whichever variant is relevant to the campaign, through visual representation and strategic executions.
  • Individual campaigns for individual product variant will be scrapped. That includes some of the newly launched campaigns such as “Regret Nothing” for Diet Coke.
  • Brand message will suggest there is a “Coca-Cola to suit every taste” by more clearly communicating product differentiation rather than personality – to enable consumers to make informed choices.

On the product level, some of the strategic changes include:

  • New packaging will see each variant being given the “same design” and set of characteristics, such as the iconic Coca-Cola script, ribbon and layout.
  • The “Cola-Cola” trademark will be made larger and more visible, with more presence of the iconic red colour.
  • Text will also be added to the front of Coke Zero, Coke Life and Diet Coke to enable consumers to better understand the range of products and the distinctive attributes of each. On the front of Coke Zero cans, the descriptor “zero sugar – great Coke taste” will be strategically repositioned in the foreground.
  • There will be an introduction of colour coded front-of-pack labelling showing fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories.

All these design changes are aiming to create a more visual “common identity” across the brands. The more unifying set of characteristics that the brand shares.

We are already seeing some of the new ads hitting major touchpoints.

In brand advertising, the big change can be seen in the latest global print campaign starring Marilyn Monroe and Elvis in celebration of the 100 anniversary of the brand’s contour bottle.

cc100_ooh_heritage_elvis_landscape_web-under-embargo-2nd-March-1002x752

In product-as-hero communications we see a deliberate attempt to present the range in equal light. But will the execution help the different product characteristics come to life when “product truth” are being communicated in a much more straightforward way? Or will the lack of “meaning” turn the ads into something better fit for corporate presentations? The result is yet to be discovered.

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New strategy brings new collaborations

At the end of the day, any new strategy won’t succeed without collaboration across the board. Here are some of my predictions:

Communicating product truth for each product variant is important but cannot be done without the support of a meaningful brand message. Product message needs to be connected with the brand’s umbrella message.

It’s not a choice between logic and magic, but a balance.

On a positive side, I think the strategy will be instrumental in paving the way to a more efficient and single-minded global campaigns. But this will only be achieved through rethinking how the brand campaigns are created and implemented across each product in the portfolio.

Doing it well, it will allow the brand to innovate into the future with a single voice, and do it in a way that doesn’t require the brand to invest in creating a new entity every time – a much more flexible approach in accommodating product manifestations.

I can also see there will be a need for tighter collaborations among the creative agencies handling different channels. Leadership will probably be driven centrally, where collaborations among agencies are encouraged and well facilitated.

The lead creative agency, on the other hand, needs to spearhead the development of the big brand idea, and create a strong creative platform on which messages of individual brand in the portfolio can build on. More important, creatives need to think of media-neutral platforms and not media-centric ads. Each agency needs to put their egos aside and completely understands the DNA of an idea and be able to expand it beyond any boundaries of a specific media.

For a global brand with local connections and meanings, any new creative platform needs to offer each country an opportunity to interpret its own “moments of happiness” and the brand’s role in those. The brand should tap into local talent to add to the effort to their marketing programs through joint global initiatives.

Coca Cola_shaes of happiness

It’s Chinese New Year on February 19. The Spring Festival is regarded as the most vibrant gift giving and shopping season in China, and therefore one of the major push for many leading brands. Many global advertisers follow the same old formula year after year, while others try to break away from the norm and do something different.

Pepsi curated a “crowd-sourced video” inviting consumers to submit 15-second videos via Mei Pai 美拍, a local mobile video app, to form a tribute to family reunions. The crowd-sourced final cut video will be eventually simulcast on the big screen in New York’s Times Square, symbolically bringing something local to a global stage. At the same time, the “Bring Happiness Home” themed promotion will deliver over 2000 postal parcels to help the mothers in the remote mountainous regions get through the cold winter days.

Apple, on the other hand, had taken this opportunity to unveil their first TV commercial produced specifically for the China market.

It has been an epic few months of localization activities for Apple. Recently they have opened five new stores timed right before the Chinese New Year. Four of the stores are in brand new cities for the brand including Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan Province, West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. In each location, they have strategically partnered up with local artists such as Wang Dongling and painter Yangyang Pan to co-create signature murals inspired by each city for the local store.

Apple Store, West Lake - About the Artist_00000

The TV commercial for Chinese New Year has been met with mixed criticisms. Directed by Ann Hui, best known for her films surrounding the topics of social issues, and cinematography by Christopher Doyle, a key collaborator in many films by Wong Kar Wei. However, you can hardly trace their signature style in the production. One of the main reasons, perhaps, is because they had to follow the tight guidelines imposed on the production – it has to be “consistent” with the global version. The story bears an almost identical storyline to a commercial entitled “The Song” released in the United States over the Christmas season in December 2014.

US “The Song”

China “Old Song”

Even though it is by large a just a localized version, but at the very least, there is a strong and relevant proposition. The storyline cleverly positions the brand being the bridge between the younger generation and the old, and technology plays a role in connecting the emotions across generations.

Different brands tend to adopt a different approach to localize brand messages for local market. In the old model, creating the localized version often involves so many levels at the client side. Depending on the category of the product, it could involve anyone from the local marketing team, the regional marketing team and of course ultimately the global brand team. During the process, any form of innovative thinking will be filtered, reduced, modified, tweaked, abandoned, shot down, reinterpreted or misinterpreted.

Any creatives who had worked within international network agencies on global brands will know the challenges. Fortunately, some global brands are now doing it differently.

Apple now adopts a centralized approach – global ideas being conceived centrally, while implementation and production being done locally. Local content are developed following the global guidelines. Pepsi has adopted a more locally driven approach, leveraging current consumer trends that resonate well in the local market. While brands like Microsoft, they have established processes such as “global-readiness audit” to make sure the ideas and executions can travel well.

No matter which strategy you decide to adopt, one thing is for certain – if you want a cohesive global brand at all, you do need to think global at the time when the idea was conceived. The key to success is to create a truly global platform, which could be so fluid that it allows local interpretations without losing its integrity.

Most global brands prefer the 80-20 ratio of global-local content – to adopt 80% of the content centrally and globally, and allow local market to reiterate and adapt 20% of the content to enhance local relevancy. I personally advocate the 70-20-10 model in which 70% of efforts focus on delivering quality global communications riding on universal truth, 20% on pushing the boundaries to contextualize it with local nuances, and 10% on ideas and approaches which are unproven but could transform the marketplace in each local market.

Which model works best for you highly depends on how you structure the global-local team, and where you put the right kind of resources.

It’s also not easy to motivate creatives to get all excited to work on adapting global ideas, but you can create the space and environment to allow creativity to grow. Here are a few tips:

  • Human insights trump cultural ones. Avoid merely dressing up the global ideas but rather go deep into the reasons why, because that’s what true consistency is all about.
  • Nothing should stop you from creating something that is uniquely local; using very native expressions as long as underlying it there is a meaningful concept that everyone understands.
  • Construct a platform that local teams can “build on it” fluidly and not wasting their time to think of how to make it work.
  • Give anyone on the ground the tools and resources to thrive in scale. Be brutal in keeping the platform intact and trust your own instinct.
  • Consensus is not about everyone agreeing, it’s about everyone being heard and the rallying around the best answer. Never go for the lowest common denominator.
  • You can’t tell creative people to be creative, but you can let them.

I wish everyone a prosperous year of creativity.

2015 prediction

It’s not quite what you are expecting. I know.

It doesn’t start with “50 tips to…” or “15 trends for…”

I did try. I promised you. Towards the end of December I have been thinking a lot about what happened in the industry in 2014, and what I think will we be facing in 2015. Like every year for the past couple of years I started jotting down the thoughts even a couple of months earlier. But I found that no matter how I tried to stay away from the “expected”, it’s hard not to be biased.

The truth is, we all tend to defend what close to what we do professionally. We feel almost a duty to do that, as we will be sharing the thoughts with our peers, who are, in the same way, pretty much defending the same thing.

It turns into almost like a sales pitch. An advertorial. Or worst, a product placement of some kind.

May be that’s the reason why when I stumbled upon Bono’s A to Z of 2014, his version of the year’s account, that I think it is so refreshing. It does not feel like selling. It’s real. It’s authentic. It’s transparent. It’s slightly flawed. It’s human.

It leads to my thinking that perhaps that’s exactly what we should all be doing in 2015. No matter as an individual or as a brand.

Content is cheap. Meaning is expensive. Don’t make content marketing another form of advertising.

Produce tailored content that does not feel like selling.

We want to be connected with things other than those directly related to our business.

No preconceived answers. Give me a bit of surprise.

We don’t need to hear that you are the greatest. Because “nice is the new cool”.

We have been so obsessed by the new, shiny trend that we fail to realize what consumers are really just looking for a brand they can believe in. If there is no “purpose”, there is no brand.

We want brands to be good. Not necessarily the best. Just good in every sense of the meaning.

If you are a bank, don’t just sell finance products, talk about how you help people to be a better human being. If you are a food producer, stop just reinforcing how good the ingredients are, but tell us why associating with you make a meaningful relationship. If you are a business software brand, stop just promoting the new features, start telling me how you see things the same way as I do.

In 2015, the only way to stand out from the competition is not just thinking out of the box, but go beyond product truth and think what it means for the consumers.

What is craft?

Two spots, both were created for the same event Rugby World Cup 2015.

Rugby 2015 “Promo”

 

Rugby 2015 “Team Talk”

 

The spot entitled “Promo” was released in 2013 in anticipation for the Rugby World Cup 2015.

Another spot entitled “Team Talk” has just been released this month to set the scene for Rugby World Cup 2015 tickets going on general sale on September 12.

“Promo” featured iconic images and archived footages from historical Rugby matches. The images were cut to a fast beat music. Scenes of fearless players intercut with dark stormy skies, the joy of victory, the hope and glory, the history and the anticipation. The analogy is obvious, all pretty expected.

“Team Talk” featured Charles Dance, best known for playing Tywin Lannister in the hit show Game of Thrones, giving a stern pep talk in front of an eclectic mix of spectators (probably played by extras) and current and former Rugby stars from South Africa, Australia and France and the World Champions All Blacks. Oh, and a hot dog seller. It is tongue-in-cheek, a strange mix of drama and a touch of humor. It is a well-told story, with the spot-on timing and rhythm. Not to mention great casting, acting and editing. You stopped and listened.

One is wallpaper.

One is a page stopper.

Which spot will you remember?

Which spot will make you glue to the screen from beginning to the end?

Which spot will you share?

Which one has raised the roof?

That’s what craft is all about.

Great idea needs great execution. And if it is well crafted, it really makes a big difference.

Note: This article was first posted on LinkedIn