A lot of people asked me about the strategy and techniques of adapting creative content for different markets. Many people think that it’s all just about language and at the most requiring some image changes. I often approach it from a very different way. I look at the strength of an idea and re-imagine how this could be manifested in different market, appealing to a different set of consumers – sometimes even tweaking it to fit into the different consumer profiles and tastes in different countries.

I came across with this latest commercial of Blackberry and thought I like to use this as a simple example to illustrate what I meant by this holistic way of adaptation.

The commercial here promotes the new features of the Blackberry Bold in a simple, product oriented way. By using an orchestra soundtrack highlighting the smoothness of the way you can navigate all the features and subtly suggesting how all the features work seamlessly together.

To adapt this, the same idea can easily be transformed brilliantly in each market with diverse culture simply by composing a soundtrack using very local musical instruments that are unique to that country – from Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korea, Middle East, India, Africa or…even regional music such as Scottish or Irish. In fact this idea can even be elevated to create specific spot for each target segment – such as using a background music featuring opera (targeting to the posh) to hip-hop (for the much cooler community! Bring it on Jay-Z)

By doing so, you enhance the idea and not just ‘translating’ it.

With a bit of creativity, any idea can work brilliantly in each local market; and all ideas should behave just like it was created specially for the local consumers.

In future blogs I will share with you other useful techniques and approaches. I like to hear your thoughts.

If you want to take your creative ideas global, just tweet @louiechow #takingcreativityglobal

When the Coca Cola team presented the ‘Liquid and linked’ marketing communications platform at theCannesseminar this year, I could see that there were more than just a few nods among the audience.

Not only is the Coca Cola one of the most respected and iconic global brand, they are also someone who had throughout the years been able to maintain a truly cohesive brand culture. With the ‘Liquid and linked’ marketing communications, they have actually summarised beautifully one of the common themes atCannesthis year; and have in their own way, rebranded the most talked about definition of integrated marketing.

The digital media had been one of the hot topics in the past few years at Cannes. However, arguably it is only this year when everyone from clients and the creative folks have truly embraced the value and effectiveness of digital media. For creatives like us, we also see this as new playground to create compelling and engaging connections with people.

The challenge in making the most of this new model of marketing communications is how all these interconnected activities and initiatives can be effectively and strategically linked and organised; and instead of purely mist of brilliant small ideas, they should be connected and help to create the most powerful and long lasting brand, that people will remember and ultimately, building long term brand equity.

I foresee there are a few emerging trends:

Ideas need to be organised:

In the ‘Liquid and linked’ working model, there are multiple content created by multiple partners. In the traditional model where it was 30 sec centric, the TVC often takes the lead in shaping and leading the dialogue (if there were a real dialogue at all in the old days). Whereas in the truly integrated model, any kind of media can be at the very centre of the interaction. I think the way Droga5 described their winning entry for Microsoft illustrated the complexity of a truly integrated campaign:

“…The target does not differentiate online from offline, so we built the program across existing media formats and channels but in a new way that wove them together and added interactive to everything. The target audience is wary of marketing messaging and needed to use Bing technology to change any perception of it or increase overall usage. Our campaign worked across media channels in a new way and put the technology at the heart of the marketing…”

When the campaign structure is no longer a simple hierarchy, planning takes on a whole new level of challenge. The need to organise big idea and liberate everybody to do really fantastic thing in each channel is crucial. We also need to make sure all parties involved in the process can benefit from each other’s knowledge and expertise.

This can be achieved through a combination of technology (building the basic logic to the system, enabling knowledge transfer and asset sharing) but more importantly, it needs a truly visionary leadership who can mastermind a unique roadmap of the brand story.

Co-creation and collaboration is more important than ever:

Co-creation and creative collaboration is something I have been advocating for many years having worked with a network of creative talents in different countries. But now with the benefit of technology and the open-mindedness of clients, it has become a truly powerful way of working. And indeed, this means the traditional agency structure is being threatened and that’s why this year atCannes, agency roster is a huge debate and full-service agency is almost becoming outdated. Research indicated that today, global clients usually review their lead creative agency every two years. The key to keep your client is constantly being able to reinvent yourself and able to partner with a wide spectrum of creative talents. Change is the new constant has never been so true.

However, co-creation and collaboration should not be confused with crowdsourcing of creative content. I think we seem to have blurred the definition to an extent that I feel slightly uncomfortable with. Dave Alberts from Mofilm put it nicely as ‘curated crowdsourcing’ – instead of simply aggregating raw creative content from an open source, they encourage creatives to focus on a shared brand objectives and build storytelling around it.

Crowdsourcing without strategic thinking on the brand has the danger of creating communications that is simply generic to the category, and not something that builds on the brand history, vision and future direction.

New approaches in linking global content and local content:

As we increasingly strive for content that is ‘so contagious that cannot be controlled’ (in the words of the Cola Cola’s model), the traditional way of localising global campaign need to be reconsidered. Not only there is no one size fits all solution, it’s increasingly important to be able to create local content that ‘linked’ to the global platform rather than simply a versioning exercise. The new trend is global coordination and local customisation; and when we talk about customisation, we are also talking about transforming content from one media to another locally, using the most powerful way of communications in each local market.

To global brands: what kind of ‘liquid and linked’ marketing communications is suitable for you? Do you give space for your creative talents to try out new ideas that are contagiously brilliant? Are your agencies able to create content that are well-connected and ‘linked’ in the increasing complex media landscape?

To creatives: Are you still thinking in the old fashioned 30 sec centric way or are you able to approach in a media neutral manner? How connected are you with other creative talents working on different media of the campaign?

Here you can see a video archive of Coca-Cola Content 2020 presentation by Jonathan Mildenhall:

I recently hosted a training session on the importance of creative briefing; in particularly the kind of briefing that is essential for multi-market, multi-channel work.

My focus, therefore, was not only on the typical brief that is created for one single market, but rather the brief that allows global ideas travel and being executed across different cultures.

It’s becoming a norm for global brands to hire multi-agencies on specific tasks, from creating the global platform to global centralisation, adaptation and implementation; from events and experiential, digital and social media, media planning and buying to retail activation and PR. The benefits are many and one of which is to let each agency to focus on what they do best; however, the danger often is there is a lack of co-ordination among the agencies and the 360 activation fail to embrace the umbrella platform.

It is absolutely essential to agree on a universal global brief that guide the tone and manner of everything around it. The master brief will most likely be coming out from the lead creative agency. It should focus on the bigger picture and the universal truth across all media.

What will then be important is for each specialist agency to build on the ‘master brief’ and extend it by applying the thinking that is relevant to the media they are responsible for.

The creative activation agency will also need to exercise their creative muscle and apply cultural insights to interpret it effectively for each local market. This also include unearthing any significant local market landscape and brand/ product lifecycle in each market; so that we are not simply standardising the solution but truly crafting out an execution that is true to the global platform while expressing in a unique voice in the local market.

Here are just a few examples:

Blackberry’s ‘Love what you do’ positioning is reinterpreted and manifested in India in a campaign entitled ‘Blackberry Boys’ featuring bright young things joining the well sited cool guys for an all star sing-along. The right tone, in the right place.

Holiday Inn Express hotels are positioned as the contemporary choice for value-oriented travellers in almost every parts of the world, but in China, the brand has a twist and emphasis is on the ‘smart choice’ of the guests. The tone and manner will need to be slightly adjusted in such markets.

The brief for the local market is no less important than the master brief, in fact in some circumstances it is even more complex since not only you need to maintain the integrity of the brand globally but creating an execution that let local consumers feel close to home.

The key is to identify a common language – the universal truth that is broad enough for local creative implementation.

I have worked with numerous independent creative hotshops over the years and every time, the challenges that they are facing are all different – but all share the same thread…Here are some of the things the creatives from independent creative agencies told me over the years…

“My client finally approved the concept after 10 rounds of revisions. The idea needs to work in 6 different markets. We need to act fast. We are running out of time.”

“We’ve just won a global account, we need to come up with a fully integrated campaign across 10 markets in 12 different languages in 3 months’ time. Buddy, we need serious help.”

“My French creative duo had come up with a fantastic idea. The campaign also needs to work across Europe, Latin America and Asia. Can we get some advice?”

“The campaign will run in 15 markets across almost 30 different TV channels. We only have a team of two and a dog (OK, I am exaggerating!).”

“We thought the international renowned celebrity is going to be a truly global ambassador for the brand. The colleagues of my client in India think differently. I wonder why…”

“I just wish we could have French, German, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian creatives in the same room working on the same brief and crack that big global idea. I know it sounds like a dream.”

“點解個客講極都唔明?呢度無人識Cheryl Cole!”

Sounds familiar? What often started as a blank page, they all come back with a bag full of ideas and more importantly, happy clients in each market all over the world.

I like to hear your challenges too…

I recently led the adaptation and production of a campaign for a global brand across 7 markets in Europe. From the day the global idea was finalised to airing in all markets, it took just over 2 months to do all the work. In fact the main ‘action’ concentrated in the last three weeks of production. For those who know me, you’ll know that working collaboratively with client and their independent creative agency has been part of my life in the past 10 years. A lot of my former colleagues who are still working within network agencies often find what I do daunting – the number of issues that we face from clarifying the global idea, making it all work seamlessly, effectively and creatively in each market, to acting as a ‘glue’ to the wide range of ‘producers’ on the campaign in different agencies and not to mention the various local clients, local media agencies and local media owners…the list goes on.

Here I like to share a few of my thoughts:

1. Buy-in of the global platform

I cannot emphasize more on how important this step is. A lot of the global campaign fail to succeed not because of that it is not ‘understood’ by the consumer, but often because of the lack of communications between the lead global team and the local team. When the ‘not invented here’ syndrome kicks in, it creates more obstacles than you can imagine. Involve everyone in the decision making, listen to what the local market needs and respond. One of the ways we think often it works is to go an extra mile and demonstrate how the local market can extend the idea locally, inspire them and help them along the way.

2. Clarity of the roles of all the stakeholders

You need someone to act as the hub of all information. In my experience it is often the agency working on the multi-market adaptation work. The agency will be the centre of all information so that nothing needs to be done twice. The drive of a global campaign often needs good leadership from the top on the client’s side. We are not talking about dictatorship here but credible leaders with empathy of the local market need.

3. Strong creative support

It’s so wrong to think that adaptation is not part of the creative process. We also need to have the open-mindedness to embrace change and adjustment to the global idea. We are talking about adapting the concept not the execution.

4. Smart centralisation

Production is certainly a key process in the road map towards a successful campaign. We need to tailor-make a production process based on the nature of the client’s business, and the integral requirements of the campaign. There is no one size fits all idea neither should it be a standardised solution. I remember Tom Kinnaird, WPP Head of Commercial and Procurement Services once said ‘There is no such thing as best practice in production decoupling. Best practice is what works at the right time and in the right way.’

5. Technology

We make use of technology in our daily lives so it is natural that we should tap onto the advantages of technology in how we work. Technology can dramatically simplify the process; with the complexity of campaign nowadays, it adds value to every step from the time we set the brief across all markets, sharing information and adding transparency to feedback, to reviewing work among remote teams to fulfilment of media assets. Let the technology take care of these things and you can focus on the parts that makes the difference in the outcome of the work.

Last but not the least, don’t let anyone tells you that there are certain ‘formula’ on how a global ad looks like and what to ‘look out for’ in order to make sure your idea works. There is no formula and often those advices only lead you to go for the lowest common denominator!

To check out one of the recent adaptation projects that I led, check out my client’s youtube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/DrinkSchweppes

Let’s Talk About Schweppes TVC: English original version and Swiss German and Swiss French versions:

I went to the exhibition of Gabriel Orozco in Tate Modern last week. Gabriel once described his work as not inventing, just reinterpreting. I thought that is quite a brave statement from an artist especially in a world where originality is king. After seeing the work in the exhibition, I think I share his vision of creativity. His work often involves taking up existing objects and alter or reconfigure them, so that familiar items are transformed or placed in a new context, often with a keen understanding of the wider associations that they carry. It is a skill that requires not only creativity, but insights and sensitivity.

I can’t help but think, as advertising creatives, that’s a skill which has become more and more crucial. With fewer and fewer true inventions these days, products and services are by nature a reinvented version of the existing one. Advertising messages, at the same time, is a new angle looking at an emotion, or pardon my jargon, the selling proposition.

Part of the work I am engaging in my profession is adaptation. It often involves taking an idea which originally was either created for one market and re-engineer it to make it relevant for each local market where the message is communicating. Or sometimes we take an idea that was created within one single media platform in mind (often TV) and extend it 360 degree in all other media creating a truly cohesive message across all platforms.

Just take the classic brand Kit Kat as example, the ‘Have a break Have a Kit Kat’ proposition was successfully reinterpreted forAsia. A market where ‘having a break’ doesn’t necessarily mean a break in the mundane but simply a moment of relaxation in a highly stressful life.

The craft in adaptation also means when reinterpreting messages for different markets, you are avoiding the boring approach of standardization and really customizing it with the local audience in mind.

In fact not only in international advertising, the skill of adaptation runs in other disciplines and other forms of communications too.

In interior design (or shall I say retail communications), when Starbucks announced the opening of a branch in central London’s Conduit Street last year, some of the nearby residents famously object to the idea, fearing that the overtly manufactured mass appealed coffee chain will ruin their neignhourhood. The solution, led by the design director Thom Breslin, is to modify the interior design, taking inspiration from independent coffee houses, and created a branch that is in sync with the neighborhood, something even Rupert Everett will approve. The methodology has then rolled out to other branches in different areas from Knightsbridge to terminal 5. It’s adaptations at its best.

Photo by Louie Chow. Artwork entitled Carambole with pendulum by Gabriel Orozco.

It’s Saturday morning at 9am. On a sunny day, Portobello market is always swamped with people from curious tourists to residents out for a bit of organic food shopping or antique hunting. I walk past this shoes shop almost every Saturday, and every time I see shoppers not only come for the shoes, people of all ages marvel at the fantastic installation at the entrance of this tiny shop – a chandelier design made up of high heel shoes. I thought, how clever it is, a shoes shop all of a sudden is not just a shoes shop anymore. It screams originality, creativity, craftsmanship and glamour.

In the book ‘Design for Shopping’, design editor Sara Manuelli said:

“…The market has traditionally been the place for the exchange of goods and has defined the relationship between the retails and the consumer. Mass culture and globalisation resulted in the evolution of the marketplace into a wondrous array of subtle formats. Today, the digital technology revolution and the impact of saturated markets have altered it even further. What was once the marketplace has now evolved into a zone of experience and lifestyle, and shopping has changed with it. The basic behavioral patterns of consumer activity have now taken on a social and cultural complexity. Commodity has become increasingly substituted and incorporated into services; retail is gradually morphing into leisure; and art has been installed to elevate the purchasing act – as if by purifying the shopping experience, one could forget the very principles of commodity and the capital it is based upon…”

In the world of marketing, brands cannot underestimate the power of consumers these days. In a recent project that I have been working on for a beverage brand, the client was looking for ways to extend the marketing budget by free publicity. What I always trying to stress to client is that free publicity isn’t being generated out of nothing but through carefully articulated and often than not, strategically curated content.

To me, an installation like this not only draws in customers, it also allows consumers generated content to be distributed freely – people tweet about it, like it on face book or simply talk about it over a cup of coffee. In fact, it actually builds brands.

When I tried to take a quick snap of the installation, a shop assistant came around and said no photography is allowed. What a shame, I thought, there may be more people like me who will blog about it and, who knows, will give the shop the much needed free publicity that the company has always wanted.

Across the street on Portobello market, not far away from the Kurt Geiger shop, is the popular All Saints, in this flagship store they have repeated the formula of displaying reclaimed sewing machines on the entire wall, a spectacular way of dressing up the store, and because photography are welcomed, god knows how many images end up on the facebook page of friends of the shoppers. Don’t underestimate the power of sharing.

Photos by Louie Chow

Every so often brands rise up to the challenge to communicate the brand on an emotional level. Rather than just merely telling people what the product is, it tells people what the brand means. Mattel had just done that. The new TV spot created by the Mattel Barbie marketing team in LA conveys what the brand means – Barbie is not just a character with beautiful clothes and make up, it gives consumers a channel to spread their dreams. All of a sudden, Barbie is not just a toy; it’s a medium, an inspiration. That, to me, is a brilliant idea.

And what could be better to express the emotion than a TV commercial with great production value. The universal aspirations that it projects work across generations and culture. I can also see how it could work very well globally and potentially become an international sensation.

Barbie is reinventing herself in some of the newly developed markets such as China. Last year, Mattel opened a unique concept store in a country where parents consider their only child as ‘little precious’. The Barbie Store in Shanghai has furniture, fashion range and even a café and a spa. The potential of the product extension is enormous. I start to see Barbie ballet school, Barbie scholarships on its way.

I always believe that true creativity goes beyond short term sales increase, it builds brands for the long term.

TVC link: http://youtu.be/bz_XFdPBkLY

For the past 10 years, after I have relocated to London, my work had been almost 100% around international brands and communications. Building great platforms for advertising ideas and making sure it travels to other cultures has been my focus. Being someone from with design training and a copywriting background, I naturally think both visually and verbally. As a creative I have never confined my thinking in either discipline. To me visual and text can never be separated – they compliment each other and form the message collectively. Even when I put on the hat of a copywriter, I also write ‘visually’ – even for radio commercials!

There are just a handful of companies in London who specialise in creative adaptation of international advertising ideas, so not only there are not a lot of people truly know the skills and the work involved, worst still, there have been many misconception about this particular sector.

Some people think it’s just about ‘translation’, for others, who may have a bit of knowledge about the differences, call it ‘transcreation’, ‘localisation’ or ‘internationalisation’. I admit I have used all these terms when engaging in conversations or presentations that simply didn’t have the luxury of time to explain its true definition. A lot of people asked me about the differences in ‘translation’ and ‘creative adaptation’ (the way I tend to prefer to call it if I have the choice), I often cite the example of a moving company.

Translation is like a moving company that deal with straightforward transport of the goods from one place to another. A good moving company is reliable and charge reasonably, but there won’t be any added value or they won’t give you any advice on what to look out for in a move. I have come across with moving companies who don’t even check if the destination has any place for parking! But they serve the purpose, and we all need the service of ‘a man and a van’ at some point in our lives.

Creative adaptation is like a relocation consultant, they specialise in international moving and know exactly the climate, traffic condition, culture, people and the customs of the place where you are moving to. Good relocation consultant even will advice on what needs to look out for when you arrive and prepare all the necessary documents so you can clear the customs quickly and efficiently. They even unpack everything and put them all in the right place. I have relocated twice in my life and know exactly how valuable these services could be; they may cost more but you know damn well that they are worth every penny.

With international brands expanding overseas rapidly to secure their position in the global stage, and with advertising spending need to be accountable these days, creative adaptation had become a hot topic once again. It is even more important to make sure companies don’t see creative adaptation as a language business but rather an area that combines creativity and marketing knowledge.

In an article on how the adland weights up the impact of the recession (Campaign, 19 September), several agency heads had shared their insights. One aspect which I think is certainly emerging from the impact of the recession is how agencies now really have to think of ways to make global campaigns work. In relation to this we can also see agency network streamlining their operation. Martin Sorrell commented that it was “ludicrous” that his company didn’t have a common back-office but that each company operates independently (Campaignlive.co.uk, 11 September). As someone who had been working on global and cross cultural campaigns for the past decade, I cannot help but stress the fact that organisation restructuring had to be accompanied with a rethink on how global campaign is created, adapted and implemented. The traditional concept of simply translating the work just from a language point of view will never work anymore and will certainly not be able to survive with the test of the time, especially in a climate where consumers think twice before they spend and will reject message that does not engage with them culturally.

It is relevant not only to creatives but everyone in the strategic team. Claire Beale already pointed out that during this year’s APG judging planners had emerged as ‘translators of global ideas into local culture’. The ‘Keep Walking’ campaign by BBH for Johnny Walker culturally adapted for the Chinese market is a perfect example.

In fact, transcreation of global campaign should not be regarded as an after thought but should be considered right from the beginning when the creative brief is written. Creative teams who are tasked in creating a campaign that will potentially go regional or global has to open up their mind and exercise their strategic thinking, not only from an execution point of view but also from a messaging point of view.

Using the much celebrated “carousel” TV campaign by Tribal DDB who has won the Cannes Film Grand Prix in 2009 as an analogy, all the technical aspects and the meticulously planned post production work had become the centre of attention; ‘special effects’ in this case is not purely a ‘post production procedure’, but has become an integral part of the big idea and was considered right from the very beginning. And that’s how the process of transcreation should be handled.

See the commercial here: