For a long time when it comes to international advertising strategy, we often think that emotional advertising would travel better than rational ones. Many people are convinced that certain emotions are shared around the world. Over the years, there were outstanding examples to convince us of this theory. We learnt it from Coca Cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ platform to Johnson & Johnson’s classic ‘Language of love’ brand campaign. P&G’s ‘Thank you Mama’ was destined to go global; and John Lewis ‘The journey’ (featuring the song ‘Power of Love’) Christmas promotion is becoming an annual highlight nationally.

We know for a fact that people don’t like thinking about complex set of choices. Decision-making is primarily an emotional thing. We tend to ask ourselves things like ‘which do I like best?’ first, and emotions guide and simplify these decisions making. Of course we have to understand that not all communication channels need to be emotional driven. Certain media, like TV, is especially good in creating emotions. After all, nobody thinks when they watch a TV commercial, people feel.

A study on the emotional branding in Australia found that emotionally attached consumers purchase substantially more. In fact, brands can expect 40% to 60% greater yield from those consumers who had an emotional attachment with them. In UK, statistics had shown that brands that had successfully created long-term benefits through emotional advertising could achieve 5 times return on investment.

However, are all emotions universal? Can we tap into the same emotion for a brand no matter which market it advertised in?  The answer is yes and no. In a sense that the overriding emotion could be universal, but underneath it the driver could very well be different. The question is, how can we adapt it subtly to make it more relevant to the local culture? As creatives we need to understand what moves local people and what are the contemporary interpretations in order to contextualise it appropriately.

Two recent campaigns from Hong Kong had demonstrated that there are much more dimensions to the ‘basic emotions’ as exploited by some of the most powerful global brands. They tried to go deeper, and found a different angle. They also have taken the risks by only focusing on creating that ‘feeling’ with the consumers, doing something totally different during the ‘gift-giving season’ when every brand is simply putting on a smiling face.

Solvil et Titus, a Hong Kong based Swiss watch brand, had a long history in producing some of the most memorable brand advertising riding on the emotion of love. In the 2012 version it conveys the message that you can’t put a ‘time limit’ when it comes to love. TSL Jewellery’s brand campaign gives the fairy tale perfect kind of love a dramatic twist with the themeline ‘To love, is to love forever’. Coincidently, both brands talk about ‘commitment’ rather than simply ‘passion and romance’.

How do these commercials make you feel? For those of you who don’t know these brands, will the ways how they interpret ‘enduring love’ work in your market? How would you reinterpret it? I’ll let you judge it yourself.

Solvil et Titus ‘100 years’ 鐵達時 「100年之約」

TSL ‘To love, is to love forever’ 謝瑞麟 「要愛,就要愛下去」

In a recent business trip to Beijing I had a reunion with the creative team I worked with in the past. We talked about the development of homegrown creative talents and the emergence of a new breed of independent creative hot shops.

I observed a particularly interesting development. Local creative agencies are starting to embrace a hybrid model to offer services covering everything from strategy, ideation, through to integrated production. Some of the agencies I met up with even have in-house creative roles from film directors to animators, and with photography studios housed under one roof. It takes the notion of through-the-line to a different level.

This is rather different from the development of the agency structure in the West.

Paul Simons talked about the difference between ideas, execution and implementation in his recent blog. He considered that implementation has shifted ‘to a different place driven by tasks that tend to be more mechanical’. He also described how today’s multiple channels and platforms, and creative work running internationally, had turned implementation massively complex – so much so that ad agencies won’t have the resource, knowhow and technology to handle the job in hand. The solution, what it seems to be the obvious one, is to outsource it.

I agree with some of his viewpoints. The ‘decoupling’ of ‘Implementation’ and ‘Production’ from ‘Creation’ has indeed happened, especially in Europe and the US, with various degree of success for different clients.

However, what I think we have to bear in mind is even when ‘Implementation’ is technically being defined not as part of the creative process, they should not be treated as ‘post production’ – or sometimes, even as an after thought.

It is especially so when campaigns are going to be launched simultaneously in multi-markets, across all touch points and particularly, for lifestyle brands. More often than not, a certain degree of rethinking needs to apply.

Creative agencies recognising the importance of that aspect of implementation had positioned the function of technologists as an important element within a creative team. Implementation is embedded within the ideation process. Jeff Benjamin of CB+P once said: ‘When we brought the technology piece in house we made it a point to say this isn’t a production capability, this is a creative capability…A technologist is as creative, in a way, as a writer.’

Joel Koplan of AKQA even argued that ‘the job of creatives is also about making ideas happen, having an eye for execution…It’s also the ‘follow through…It’s coming up with an idea and taking the step to make it come to life in the right way’.

That, to me, is what ‘implementation’ truly is.

It is exactly when we treat the implementation process as totally separate, mistakes bound to happen.

The recent blunders of the Ikea catalogue (which I discussed in one of my recent blog) were good examples. In the case of Ikea, I imagine this was what happened – an ‘implementation/ production’ company were tasked to localise the Ikea catalogue for 10 different markets, and one of the ‘requirements’ was that in the Saudi Arabia version they need to take away the female images (somehow, a top down decision as written in the form of a localisation brief). Meanwhile, the retoucher proceeded according to the ‘brief’ without having the luxury of time to consider about the outcome and implication of the work. He/ she did a fantastic job in the retouching, probably within 24 hours turn-around and then, zoom, went to printing, which was again, possibly outsourced to a printer away from the production centre. The process also may have escaped the final screening by a local marketing manager, since either the company had eliminated such posts during the streamlining/ re-structuring or the ‘production/ implementation’ agency was not tasked to do it. It was not within the ‘scope of work’.

Technically, nothing wrong. Digital files were pristine. Assets were digitally archived. Job in question was completed within SLA. Catalogues were delivered on time.

I believe that any form of communications, no matter how technical the process, is still a creative product. And creativity, not to mention culture and local relevancy, does play a large part in its success.

Even if we were not literally doing each other’s work, there are bound to have cross-overs and we should not implement ideas like a ‘conveyer belt’ style.

Ultimately, an idea never really completes till the last minute before any work goes live.

If I polish my crystal ball, here are some of my predictions in the discipline of ‘implementation’:

  • The role of implementation will go beyond production. It will involve transforming a creative platform into any form of media suitable for any particular market, culture, and of course in any language. In the digital arena, implementation will encompass roles such as user-experience designer, interactive designer, strategist, tech head and integrated producer.
  • Creatives need to think of media-neutral platforms and not media-centric ads. As such, the role of implementation is to completely understand the DNA of an idea and be able to expand it beyond any boundaries of a specific media.
  • Back in the days of traditional media, the line between creative and execution were clear. With digital comes to the fore, creatives often have in their mind the question whether the ideas that they come up with could actually be executed. The role of implementation is first to advice whether it is feasible and what is the best way to organise it to optimise both quality and costs effectiveness.
  • ‘Creative’ and ‘Implementation’ agencies will form tighter strategic alliance and collaboration. The discipline of media and creatives had been surgically divorced in the 90s, with no respect that often the ‘media’ were the ‘message’, and we’ve learnt the lesson. In the future, execution and the way an idea is implemented will have a profound impact on the magic of the idea. Creatives, media and implementation will need to find a way to work back together. Collaboration is the new activation. Or as I always believe, T-shaped hybrid talents will be the real star in the future.
  • The creative inputs within ‘Implementation’ will evolve in the form of ‘Planning’ and will become more crucial in the overall delivery, and more importantly, will be recognised as part of the strategic process.

Looking forward, leading implementation agencies need to join forces and articulate the value of their work, and be rewarded appropriately for what they contribute into the success of the final output.

I will continue to expand on these thoughts in future blogs. I also like to hear from your experience either as first hand from an implementation agency or from the point of view of a creative agency that had benefited from some of the best practice in this discipline.

I will also like to explore the significance of the hybrid model of some of the creative agencies in China and profile some of the need-to-know talents.

If we have to choose a high street fashion brand that had made global news recently, it had to be Topshop. During London Fashion Week in September, the fashion industry had widely praised the brand for unlocking the selling power of social media, turning ‘likes’ into ‘sells’. The effort seemed to have paid off and have certainly uplifted the brand to a global status. ‘Shoot the Show’ was also described by Topshop’s chief marketing officer, Justin Cooke as social, commerce and entertainment rolled into one.

Here are the highlights of the truly 360° activation of the Topshop Spring Summer 2013 extravaganza:

  • The entire fashion show was live-streamed on their website on 16 Sept
  • The live stream video was pinned to the top of its Twitter page
  • Consumers could personalise and share their experience as it took place in real time in London’s Bedford Square
  • Converging with conventional retail activation – the show was also shown on large screens at its Oxford Circus flagship store in London and on the websites of more than 200 media partners
  • The ‘Customise the Catwalk’ feature allowed users to select and order the key looks and accessories, and change the colour to their preferred option before placing the order
  • Viewers could click on clothes and accessories to browse color options as they came down the catwalk
  • Garments ordered ‘live’ from the runway could be delivered three months ahead of industry lead times
  • The partnership with Facebook that featured a ‘Shoot the Show’ function, whereby fans could trigger a ‘camera icon’ on the screen and take a snap of their favourite looks, they could then share it on Facebook with their friends
  • All the tracks from the show were available to be downloaded via iTunes on topshop.com
  • Beauty products used by models were available online with a 48-hour delivery promise
  • Online tutorials were developed to guide fashion fans to develop their own look inspired by the catwalk show
  • Twitter followers (@Topshop) were encouraged to review the show in a ‘Tweet-off’ for a chance to win tickets to the next runway show
  • Branded content: Topshop posted videos of the show 30 mins after the event ended as newsfeed to every country

Snapshots of stats:

  • Both #TOPSHOP and UNIQUE trended globally on Twitter Sunday
  • 100,000 images shared every 20 seconds
  • One garment was sold out in 10 minutes …during the show. In every colour.
  • 2 million people in over 100 countries watched the live-streamed show, its largest online audience ever

The social media strategy seemed to have indeed made Topshop go global. What could possibly be missing?

This year, from May to end of August, Topshop had opened a pop-up store in Shenzhen, China. Now, of all the cities in China, it’s not clear what’s the strategy behind the choice of location, but nevertheless, the global ambition is clear. What I am wondering is, when will the retail brand start localizing the online shopping site to ensure it connects to the local consumers?

Here’s the topshop.com ecommerce site for the China market:

Topshop’s CMO Justin Cooke tweeted during the social media extravaganza: ‘This was the dream #Topshop we might just be the first case study they all wanted – social to commercial, likes to pounds…more to come’. Will the web site be localised in time to even enhance local consumers’ online experience?

While online shopping in China is flourishing, should retailers look at how to implement the global brand locally? Should e-commerce act as one part of their overall digital strategy as well as their overall integrated strategy offline? These are all the questions I like to explore in future blogs. Let me know your thoughts.

*The image shows the Chinese character of ‘one’.

Sometimes we hope that cultural differences do not exist. Not only can we share the same values, it makes life so much more peaceful.

The reality, however, is never like that.

We are also living in the culture of sharing. What happens in one country, is all very easy to be shared globally.

It has just been reported that in the Saudi Arabian version of the 2013 Ikea catalogue, all images of women, including the photograph credit of a female designer and depiction of family scenes throughout the catalogue, have been mysteriously retouched.

You can see the comparison of the visuals in the below images which were taken directly from the pages of the catalogues in UAE and UK.

This is not just the case of misinterpretation of images – such as the digitally retouched photos of Julia Roberts and Christie Turlington in an ad campaign for L’Oréal (which was subsequently banned in the UK)

The case with Ikea this time is more than that. It has to do with the representation of the role of female in families and society. I am not surprised that it had created such a stir and debate – and rightly so.

For a brand that had consistently scored well from the innovative urban planning projects ‘Ikea-land’ to the widely published and popular catalogue, Ikea’s globalisation strategy had always been a textbook case study. In April 2012, AdMap published a ‘Meaningful Marketing’ report and praised IKEA “makes numerous meaningful connections with people, at an economic, intellectual, organisational, spiritual and emotional level” and had registered on top of the Meaningful Brands Index across all markets.

So what went wrong?

Localisation of marketing communications is nothing new. In fact it is something I am dealing with on a daily basis. Especially in the lifestyle category, global brands do sometimes need to adjust the ‘product’ when selling in a different country. From formula of food products to the message in marketing campaigns, customisation is what is needed.

It is also not uncommon to ‘localise’ marketing materials to fit local cultural norms, we are not just talking about changing the font or layout, but strategically curate it to bring out the best of what the brand is to the local market. What’s ‘design-led’ in one country could be ‘price-driven’ in another.

The lessons learnt from the Ikea case was that the executional treatment was based on stereotypical depiction of a culture. I am quite convinced that the production team involved at Ikea had done this with no intention to offend. It was likely that in this case, localisation has been boiled down to be just a technical process – just doing, not thinking.

Here are 5 tips when developing content for products on a global scale:

  • Implementation cannot be completed without a phase of proper planning
  • ‘Repurpose’ should not be just about execution (resizing, reformatting or retouching), it should be rethinking of the relevancy of the product and message
  • Avoid cut corner solutions. Plan ahead for the production across all markets involved and discuss requirements of additional production, such as photo shoot, for each market. If planning were done upfront, costs will be easier to manage.
  • Plan certain aspects of the production to be done locally with a flexible global guidance, such as sourcing local talent in-market
  • Involve your local marketing team even when the global strategy is coming from topdown

And one last tip – even though there is no such thing as ‘global consumer’, under the watchful eyes of social media, everything is transparent.

What do you think?

With all the best creative works in the world, hundreds of hours of seminars, forums, workshops, screenings, not to mention the chance to catch up with creatives from all cultures (and scanning QR codes on each other’s name tag), Cannes Lions remain the definitive global event that the whole industry converge, debate and celebrate. ‘Rethinking’, ‘redefining’ are the usual buzzwords at Cannes. It’s a time to take stock of what we do and what it means to us, to our clients and to the industry as a whole.

Here are a few personal favourites, takeaways and observations.

Diverse talents

Every year, the winning works in Cannes often lead to healthy debates and discussions. This year, the most talked about winning works were from some of the most diverse talents.

Ogilvy Shanghai’s entry entitled ‘#CokaHands’ that won the agency a Grand Prix in the outdoor category was designed by Jonathan Mak, a 20-year-old Hong Kong designer. Some people questioned what the agency’s involvement in the creation of the work and whether ‘co-creation’ deserved to win in Cannes. The truth is, creative ideas can now come from absolutely anywhere. The role of creative directors is increasingly becoming a ‘curator’ of talents or a ‘conductor’ of ideas from various disciplines. The power of an idea sometimes depends on the content created by the crowd. It wouldn’t surprise me that in the future there will be an award dedicated to the public.

Connected thinking

In the past few years, digital had been the hot topic. This year, it’s all about ‘content’. The Festival afterall, had been renamed as the ‘Festival of Creativity’ for many years and it now covers creativity across all disciplines. This year the Festival had added new categories including ‘Branded Content and Entertainment Lions’ and ‘Mobile Lions’. For ‘Branded Content’, it was defined as “the creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand”. The new categories reflect the diverse formats of the creative content being created, making sure the Festival remain relevant to the evolution of the industry.

The conventional ‘art director + copywriter’ creative team structure is also becoming obsolete. In order to create truly innovative solution for clients it’s more common for creatives to be teamed up or partnered with technology strategists, or in some cases, producers in the entertainment business.

I feel strongly that the new breed of creative talents will all have the natural capability of ‘connected thinking’, and integrated approach will be at the heart of everything we do. Just look at the Grand Prix winner in the ‘Ambient’ category entitled ‘The Invisible Drive’ promoting the Mercedes-Benz F-CELL hydrogen-powered car. The outcome was that the big idea connected with consumers as wide as social media, PR and mobile channels. Ambient or mobile is no longer the ‘peripheral’ media but in some cases they become the key to integrate other touch points.

Another remarkable example of truly cross-disciplinary thinking was Nike+’s Fuelband, which Stefab Olander said in his presentation, that the products and services had become the marketing. Bob Greenberg of R/GA described Nike is a ‘functionally integrated’ company that offer ‘seamless, interconnected services and experiences, not just products’. This way of thinking will become the DNA of future brand architecture, and naturally influences how we as creatives tackle the challenge.

Democratisation of content

A couple of years ago, when MOFILM started to challenge the industry by introducing a new content-based democracy, inviting film production talents from all over the world to crack the creative brief and produce content for big brands, a lot of us were sceptical about the practice. Was it just a trend? Was it created out of brand’s desire to shop around for ideas and driving down production costs? Today, it all seems to make perfect sense. Not only has it met the demanding nature of the explosion of multi-screen channels, it actually turned out to be a totally viable model to unite production talents from creative agency, film and the music industry. Clients also become more involved and actively participating in the creative process. But I think the most exciting development is in nurturing new talents. The ‘Welcome to the industry’ initiative from MOFILM, has already starting to break down the barriers within an industry historically being dominated by a few big giant production houses.

Clients believe in magic

In one of the Cannes stories showcased in Cannes, Sir Martin Sorrell said ‘creativity is what makes clients’ precious marketing budget goes further’. Cannes has always served an instrumental value of promoting the passion of creativity not just among creative teams but also among clients. It’s an opportunity for clients to witness why creating and producing good work matters to us, and how we could work together to build trust and empathy towards meeting each other’s objectives.

In the seminar ‘Can your Client Be Your Friend?’ Joel Ewanick of GM and Jeff Goodby demonstrated what’s the perfect client agency relationship is. When your client starts a conversation and you complete the sentence, that’s good partnership. An agency is not a ‘service provider’ but someone to help connecting the dots.

Local creativity shines

The international representation of the delegates has boosted the importance of local creativity. Local creative talents had been given the opportunity to showcase the unique creative approach that often creatives from other culture do not understand. Brazil had set up their design focused showcase, China Advertising Association promoted the creative culture through mobile technology, production house from Russia and digital group from Thailand all tried to take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to international creatives. Mexico had even erected their ‘pop-up’ venue just across the street from the Palais with the aim to welcome clients and creative talents who like to know more about the market.

Among all the seminars, Korea made a point about their ‘cultural assets’ with the recent success of K-Pop phenomenon, and Japan took to the stage and shared with us the success story behind the global icon of Hello Kitty being localised for different markets. Julian Boulding from the Networkone continued to showcase work of independent creative agencies from China to Spain and Sweden, the presentation not only was about sharing the great work coming from independent agencies, but also the unique approaches that reflect their local culture. My favourite, however, was the local pride demonstrated by R. Balki, Chairman and CCO of Lowe Lintas India and Shekhar Kapur, Oscar nominated director. Balki firmly believed that the desire of India is to remain India, and when he said ‘Where there is a difference, there is a creative interest’ he addressed the issue of global advertising head on. I salute to that.

Creativity for good

There has been much talk in recent times about how the advertising industry should use our wealth of creativity to help change people’s behavior for the benefit of the world. That message was amplified when former President Bill Clinton gave a heart-felt and compelling talk in Cannes. Not only did his insight and global context made the case impressively, the topic was also timely and very much in line with the current trend of ‘building brands for good’. He also pinpointed our role as creatives is to spread the information and get it right. He said “A lot of the facts that will form the trends of the future are not apparent to people. The communicators will have a profound influence on how the next 20-30 years will turn out…People need honest communication. You can do that.”

Indeed, some of the freshest ideas that won in this year’s Festival were rooted from a desire to create something meaningful and useful for people. Examples like the Chipotle’s ‘Back to the Start’ film combined with the brand’s Cultivate Foundation. The ‘Unhate’ print work from Benetton connects the brand with social responsibility.

The cream of the crop I think clearly goes to the ‘Help Memories Bandages campaign’ created by Droga5. The campaign had turned marrow registration as a part of an everyday act by putting a marrow registry kit into a box of Help Remedies bandages.

A standing ovation

In an industry that brings in fresh new talents every year, it’s important that we pay respect to the gurus who had shaped the idea of great advertising over the years. This year Google’s ‘Re: Brief’ project had done exactly that. The project aimed to challenge whether the most iconic advertising campaigns can be ‘re-imagined’ for a modern audience. We had the chance to meet Paula Green, the original copywriter who authored the Avis slogan ‘We Try Harder’ and Harvey Gabor, the art director who helped to make the Coca-Cola ‘Hilltop’ TVC a global success. Google’s objective of this campaign was to prove that digital channels could extend any big ideas in innovative ways. For us, witnessing the collaboration between the legendary creatives and the bright young things was simply a joy. By applying fresh thinking, innovative creative ideas sometimes could be born out of genius adaptation. No wonder at the end of the seminar, the adland legends received a standing ovation from the audience.

Before it all becomes distant memories, what are your best bits of this year’s Cannes Festival? I like to hear from you.

I will also expand some of these themes in future blogs and apply insights from a local perspective, please join in the discussions.

I stumbled upon an image on facebook recently and it had stuck in my mind for a long time. It’s a facebook page of InterContinental Hotels where guests post snapshots of the hotel from all over the world. It’s a fantastic collection not because it is completely from the eyes of the consumers; it also illustrates one interesting thing – the hotel looks and feels so differently in each market.

This got me thinking…how does brand consistency apply in this context? Is consistency really relevant after all? Or perhaps we need to redefine the conventional definition of consistency?

What about global brand guidelines? We often hear branding specialists emphasize that in order to maintain global brand consistency, local markets need to be provided with over-arching guidelines about presentation, logo use, images and tone of brand messages, often in a manifesto or marketing book. However, many of these brand guidelines are over simplifications or generalizations that often have not allowed the breath of thinking.

I think consistency is an attitude. It’s more about the ‘how’ than ‘what’.

Intelligently local

As brands become more national, multinational or global, they realize that not all the consumers in each market have the same needs.  The need for global brands to be transformed and make sure they are locally relevant is increasingly important. In the travel industry, for example, hotel brands have been increasingly adapted to the local needs.

Accor has revamped its Grand Mercure brand in China, offering products and services tailored for local clientele, in a move aimed at taking advantage of the booming upscale domestic travel market.

Grégoire Champetier, chief marketing officer of Accor said “Our clients are now expecting brands capable of understanding the diversity and the complexity of their identity.”

The re-engineered branding for Grand Mercure, referred to in Mandarin as Mei Jue (美爵), was unveiled at the inauguration of Grand Mercure Shanghai Zhongya, the first hotel adapted to the new positioning. The group’s nine other similarly branded properties in China are due to adopt the new identity.

In Shanghai, employees will be conversant in the local Shanghainese language (a dialect that is class-defining in mainland China), and guests will be welcomed by staff wearing Qipao, a traditional evening dress (Think Maggi Cheung in the Mood for Love).

All local staff will be identified with name badges bearing firstly Chinese characters, followed by a pinyin equivalent enabling them to use their given names rather than adopting foreign equivalents.

Other signature services include daily Tai chi lessons, and complimentary head and shoulder massages (Chinese style presumably) for guests staying on premium floors.

The Grand Mercure brand provides Accor with a fresh platform for organic upscale expansion throughout the country. The opportunity for organic growth in the upscale hotel segment in China is one of the largest in the world. Accor’s tailor-made Grand Mercure product has already garnered great support from hotel owners. Accor currently operates 10 Grand Mercure hotels in the country. Accor has confirmed commitments for 10 additional hotels, and announced that it will expand its network to around 65 hotels in tier 1 to tier 3 cities throughout China by 2015.

Authentic global

The concept of globalization often carries a dose of negativity. By definition, globalization means the ‘process by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society’, which indicates the process of standardisation. However, in an increasingly interconnected global economy, many of us cherish our local roots. Some global brands understand that and promote ‘now localism’ in their brand strategy.

Hotel Indigo is what IHG considered to be their nearest to a non-hard brand.

As their CFO of EMEA and head of development for Europe for IHG, Paul Edgecliffe-Johnson, once said “A good brand is one that does a lot of research into what consumers want and designs something around that”. In fact they have put this in practice and bring in the feeling of the locale wherever they go. For example in Liverpool, the hotel focus on the music scene, in Shanghai it captures a strong Chinese-feeling.

Bart Carnahan, senior VP for acquisitions and development of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide once commented on the pros and cons of hard branding versus soft branding: “St. Regis for us is hard-branded—you know what you’re getting”. Luxury Collection is getting close to these white brands, it has some core consistencies throughout those brands, but it gives more breadth to owner developers, so it’s not so rigid. Carnahan said Starwood’s upscale brands have to have local designs to get that eclectic local feeling and the company wants some of the luxury brands to be.

Not just local, it’s your neighbourhood

Going one step further, the notion of ‘place’ is such a core of the proposition that certain brands has gone all out to adapt to local market needs. Statbucks is one such brand. In Seattle, 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea looks nothing like a Starbucks. But, this new café, named after the street where it is situated, is a Starbucks. Starbucks has decided to un-brand it’s newest location in Washington DC. By featuring local entertainment, sourcing from local bakeries and donating leftover food to the local parish, these new un-branded cafés aim to integrate themselves into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

Consumers are turning away from the allure of globalization and massive brands for the comfort of localization. In the US, we stand poised to see the resurgence of neighbourhood. How can your brand capture local character and appeal to consumers’ by providing them with a greater sense of identity and belonging?

Here, I am leaving with you some food for thoughts:

What consistency means in global brand management nowadays? Does it need to be redefined?

If brands need to be localized, what are the impact in the process of creating and implementation of global campaign?

If one-size-fits-all marketing tactic does not work for certain product categories, what are the implications of adapting global ideas for local markets?

What do you think?

Apart from a few obvious global giants, few brands establish dominant positions in multiple markets. Often this has become one of the main challenges for brands to create one single global creative platform.

There are a number of reasons behind it. Different perception and taste of the product is one, what I call the ‘marmite effect’. Or the product could simply be reaching a totally different product life cycle in each local market. Orangina is one such example.

When Miss O meets Tora-san

In France, the brand began its production in 1963 and has been so established that, arguably, it has become a lifestyle brand. In its popular advertising featuring the classic Orangina Rouge to the controversial ‘furry animals’ campaign back in 2008 through to the most recent ‘Miss O’ creative platform, it’s all about creating buzz and keeping the brand fresh and current in the mind of consumers. It’s what’s outside that counts!

In the new series of spots by Fred & Farid Paris directed by Joseph Kahn, the lady wolf is portrayed as a heartbreaker, in “Working late” she lies to her wimpy boyfriend and then in “Dump”, she breaks up with him in a very public way. The work, centred around the wolf, who is Miss O, asks you who really is the boss when it comes to relationships.

The local culture also provides a perfect playground for such creative platform to flourish, share and engage. The tagline “C’est qui le sexe fort?” (creatively adapted as “Who is the boss” or literally means “Which is the strong sex?”). Interestingly, the French consumers with GSOH are not steered to take the message literally, and the creative idea was instantly recognised, accepted and embraced.

On the other side of the globe in Japan, Suntory acquired the Orangina brand in 2009 and the new-look Orangina replacing the classic pear-shaped bottle was just launched in March. As a relatively new brand in the market, being French has its advantage. The recent ‘Toro-san’ campaign featuring Richard Gere rides on that ‘foreignness’ and was distinctively designed for that market.

In the launch commercial, Richard Gere appears as Tora-san, the lovable ‘loser’ in Shochiku’s very popular 48-film series of Japanese comedy movies entitled 『男はつらいよ』(It’s Tough Being a Man). Not only is he a contemporary adaptation of the original character played by Kiyoshi Atsumi, the commercials also use the same iconic music “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo” from the series.

The original Tora-san in 『男はつらいよ』:

The underlying message is that the brand is a western idea adapting within the framework of the Japanese culture. By riding on the character of Tora-san who is famous for being a bumbling Mr. Everyman, gives the brand personality a distinctive western dimension.

George Field wrote in his book “From Bonsai to Levis” (1983), and commented that in Japan culture, contrary to the stereotype, the woman is the boss (in the context that Japanese women control the purse strings in the family and are well positioned to occupy the seat of power).

There is an intriguing irony between the dominating ‘Miss O’ and humble ‘Tora-san’ here. Though I have a feeling that it is just a happy co-incidence, I cannot help but imagine what if ‘Tora-san’ meets ‘Miss O’, could that be a marriage made in heaven?

Could that be a cross-border joint production and creative adaptation?

One might argue that going for a completely localised approach, it means that it will be a long way when Orangina can create a truly global brand that captures a common language as in the case of some other globally aligned beverage brands.

For the time being, the brand may not be able to take advantage of the costs efficiency enjoyed by creating a centralized global idea that many marketers aim for, but they certainly give the brand an opportunity to grow with the local market at the right time, in the right place. This also reinforces the belief that there is no single, optimal answer to the question of how to manage a global brand.

When I saw the second instalment of the campaign from the Singapore Tourism Board, I knew that it will create a bit of debate.

The commercial was designed to target the Australian tourists and aimed to change Australians’ entrenched perception of Singapore as a stopover destination. Debuted on 8 March in cinemas across Australia.

Perhaps what have created the instant reaction from the audience was in fact the tagline they had chosen – ‘Get Lost and Find the Real Singapore’.

Riding on the colloquialism of the folks down under, the approach reminds me of the ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ catchphrase from the Australian Tourism Commission a couple of years ago. Tongue-in-cheek? Definitely. Gimmicky? May be. What’s the difference this time is the ‘Get Lost’ campaign from the STB is meant to be single-mindedly for the Australian audience, while the ATC ‘WTBHAY’ campaign was run internationally. So compare to the ATC tactics, STB’s strategy is one that based on segmentation and localized messaging.

Back in December last year, STB had already launched the first phase of the campaign entitled ‘New Discoveries’ in China, specially tailored for the new wave of Chinese tourists who are beginning to make their own travel arrangement, much younger and look for experiences that include new and unique undertakings.

Putting the execution aside, I think the tactics of clear targeting and strategic localized message is already a step better than most ‘wallpaper’ type tourism marketing I have seen.

The only thing I like to suggest is underneath all the localized message, if there is an emotional ‘hot button’ that run through the campaigns in different market, identifying the ‘universal truth’ as I always believe, it will allow a much stronger platform for any execution to build on.

According to STB, the customized marketing plans will be rolled out in phases. After the launch in China and Australia, India, Indonesia and Malaysia will follow. I guess we just have to wait and see.

At the time of writing this post, I have asked a few of my creative folks in Sydney to comment on this campaign from a local point of view, please check back for updates.

If you are based in India, Indonesia and Malaysia, how do you think STB should tailor their message for your market? I would like to hear from you.

A few thoughts on adapting global marketing campaign had been brewing in my mind for a while.

It all started with the ‘T’ word

In the past 10 to 15 years, when brands started to go truly global, one of the key steps they had taken was to align their brand advertising to achieve synergy in every market they advertised. At the same time, they started to realise that translating the marketing message in foreign markets was no longer enough, that’s when ‘transcreation’ (in global campaign) came about.

That was the time when I was recruited by a London agency specialised in this revolutionary approach. I moved from Asia and joined the original visionary team that determined to make it happen. I started to leverage my creative agency background to build a network of creative writers around the world, expanding the company’s talent pool from just key European markets to pan European, Asia Pacific and beyond.

Nowadays, the creatives that I have handpicked, have collaborated with global brands across the whole industry and had become the early adopters of this discipline.

At that time I didn’t really refer the service as ‘transcreation’. I defined the approach the same way as any local copywriter creating brand stories for the local market – the only difference being the global idea formed the backbone of any creation.

In many ways, my philosophy has never changed.

What does ‘transcreation’ really mean?

It reached the point when more and more people talked about ‘transcreation’, and marketing agencies (even translation companies) started to reposition their services to match the growing trend, the true essence of the meaning had become blurred.

In previous blog posts I have already expressed my view on the many misguided definition of ‘transcreation’.

Many people over the years had attempted to define it, with little clarity.

In the world of global marketing, the term has been loosely adopted to describe the kind of adaptation work that adjusts to the culture of local markets.

Within the marketing implementation industry, the term had been used just because this is, up till now, how most marketers understand it.

In fact, I have always had a concern about how people actually understand it.

It gets a bit ‘cloudy’, and does not help in showing the true value of the work when it is being done properly.

If you think all it involves are avoiding all the cultural pitfalls in foreign markets – expressions that does not mean anything in a foreign market, colors that create negative connotation or customs that is frowned upon in a different culture, then think again.

Let’s take a step back and consider the brief origin of this term:

Transcreation was originally used to express a literary tradition of India especially after the emergence of modern Indian languages. It was used to describe the people oriented and the time oriented creative translations of the ancient Sanskrit spiritual texts. This term originally used by contemporary writers like P. Lal for his English translation of the Shakuntala and Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1974), is applicable for the whole tradition of creative translation of great classics like Ramayana, Bhagarata and Mahabharata in the regional languages from Sanskrit.

The methodology of ‘transcreation’ all makes perfect sense until companies start using it as a fancy term without fundamentally understanding the true impact of the output.

Part of the arguments in the past on ‘transcreation’ was on cost savings – one ‘master asset’ to be used for multiple markets. This argument is also gradually breaking down with the introduction of smart production process and technique, and the costs of recreating asset could be substantially reduced.

And that’s the reason why I like to challenge it and rethink what’s relevant in the current global marketing landscape.

Is ‘transcreation’ the only answer?

I developed the ‘creative adaptation’ service for some of our clients just because of this. By approaching it pretty much the same way as in approaching a brief from fresh, but taking the global brand and platform as part of the backbone of the local execution. By thinking 360° and activate the ideas in all touchpoints relevant to each local market.

The only challenge is, the line is so fine that only when you involve in the creative process, you often find it difficult to distinguish the differences.

I believe it is also intensified by the growing popularity and importance of digital and social media, where local executions are often the more preferred way to execute the idea. Locally developed executions are beginning to challenge the integrity of the global platform.

I think it’s time we approach it from a fresh angle.

Enter Trans-origination

Rather than approaching it in the contrived and often tightly framed manner – i.e. based on a master source and ‘transcreate’ it by applying necessary adjustments and changes to make it suit the local market – we approach it the same way like the thinking process of ‘origination’.

Origination: The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new.

Only when we stop just trying to ‘shadow’ the master source materials, will we be able to think out of the box like a local.

Part of the arguments in the past on ‘transcreation’ was on cost savings – one ‘master asset’ to be used for multiple markets. This argument is also gradually breaking down with the introduction of smart production process and technique, and the costs of recreating asset could be substantially reduced.

How to be a ‘trans-originator’

How should we approach ‘trans-origination’? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t get boxed in the literal context. Spend more time to identify the true universal truth and more importantly, what each market actually needs. The universal truth is more likely to be deeper than the copy message itself or just the ‘campaign tagline’
  • Understand the local market beyond just the confinement of the ad campaign in question. Consider every expression holistically – from naming through to corporate culture, from marketing communications to even model of after sales service – because these are increasingly important in creating total consumer experience.
  • Apply T-shaped thinking: if transcreation goes for the depth, trans-origination goes for the breath. Think about extending the campaign to media apart from the pre-determined channel of the ‘master asset materials’ – sometimes spending the resources to re-interpret it in a totally different media that works better for the local market will prove to be more effective and guaranteed better return of investment.

In a nutshell, don’t just do it, start asking why.

Some signs of the growing trend of ‘trans-origination’

  • Coca-cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ positioning was trans-originated as a social campaign in Philippines, a good-will ‘Make Tomorrow Better’ campaign in Egypt or as a fun-filled marketing stunt in America – all are designed to be the manifestation of the ‘happiness’ platform in a local context
  • Johnnie Walker ‘Keep Walking’ platform is trans-originated in the ‘Jonnie Walker House’ experience in China
  • Levis was trans-originated as a local brand dENiZEN primarily for China and will be marketed across Asia, transferring knowledge of the mother brand to a newly developed local brand
  • French fashion label Hermès trans-originated as a luxury brand Shang Xia for China in 2010
  • InterContinental hotel is going to trans-originated a new luxury hotel brand in China riding on the operation support of the master-brand but in a totally local brand identity

Less theory. More practice.

All the ‘T’ words that I have mentioned are not attempting to replace each other. They should be considered as different tools in a tool box – use the right one in the right time.

Trans-origination is not just a fancy term or an upgrade of the same service but a fundamental shift of thinking and approach in developing and adapting global marketing campaigns in the digital age.

For this reason, I think trans-origination™, is the future.

I like to hear your thoughts.

(No need to Google the term yet, cause you read it here first!)

Stop press: Just when I am writing this on my holiday I read that Starbucks will open its first coffee shops in India in August or September in 2012, and aims to have 50 outlets by year-end through a tie-up with the Tata group. With India’s strong tea drinking culture, I can see a perfect case for trans-origination in the brewing.

Nowadays I seldom involve in campaigns that cover only one market. I am also increasingly involving in brands that need to adapt creatively in different markets – as oppose to the traditional standardization of messages.

We are living in an increasingly transparent world. Globalization does not turn consumers into one homogenous type, it intensifies the differences between cultures. Marketing your brand in a different country takes more than simply communicating in a different language, you have to start from as early as the product development stage.

Not just local – brands get personal:

When it comes to lifestyle products, things get personal. If you want to connect with consumers on a personal level, global brands need to know how to strategically adapt it for the local market.

Ikea, the furniture retailer famous for its functional-yet-stylish designs, have experienced healthy growth in sales rise by almost 8pc in 2010 in China. The success as credited to the strategic decision to adapt the brand for the local market:

  • Creating an appropriate Chinese name 宜家 (pronounce ‘Yi jia’) which means “comfortable homes”
  • Great pricing strategy coupled with smart centralization of production. When first introduced in China, Ikea mostly attracted the affluent crowd simply because the prices were considered too high by Chinese standards. Nowadays, the prices in Ikea’s Chinese stores have been slashed across the board by over 50 percent.
  • The self-service concept of the customers driving their new bookshelves home and then assembling them themselves didn’t make sense to the Chinese, lessons were learnt and now home delivery is offered by outsourcing to a specialized company.
  • Creating localized product line such as special themed furniture sold only during the Chinese New Year. The range consists mainly of textiles that are red or patterned with the animals of the zodiac.
  • In each store, the Ikea store features large showrooms modeling various home furniture solutions for the local clientele. For example, in Beijing, people usually don’t have a big dining table in the living room (oh yes, dining table is seldom placed in the kitchen). Locally styled model dining rooms with small tables for just two or four people are featured.

The latest catalogues, traditionally one of their main marketing tool, feature subtle differences in the design and content of the editions for UK, US and China.

  

(from L to R, top to bottom – UK, China, US.)

Notice the subtle differences between the shot on the cover of the Chinese version and the US version.

Is there any brand that looks the same anywhere in the world but distinctively feels different locally in your market? I like to hear from you.

Twitter: @louiechow