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.

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

In an interview at Cannes Festival of Creativity this year, Sir John Hegarty responded to the question about the state of creativity in the ad industry. He raised the concern about the effectiveness of “global advertising”.

…If you believe that a brand is about becoming a part of the cultural landscape, then increasingly we are seeing advertising failing to do that…around the world. So something has to change….

To be clear, what we are questioning here, is “global execution”.

The fact is, the assumption that one brand means the same thing in all cultures is no longer relevant. Many people argue that social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn make brands more globally visible than before. But it is exactly because of the transparency of the medium that the differences become even more profound.

So are global ideas achievable? Does it make business sense? Is there a formula to take an idea global?

Don’t mix up global ideas with global executions

The conventional definition of global advertising could be like this: creating a simple yet meaningful message; enforcing creative consistency; making sure the global position doesn’t get lost in translation. Different brands will then apply different degree of customisation, depending on the open-mindness and the corporate culture of the brand.

But it was then.

Today, this “cookie cutting” style of creating a global campaign though still exists, it has evolved tremendously and has come a long way. This has much to do with the more sophisticated understanding of what global advertising means among major global marketers. It also has to do with the fact that the world has grown more interconnected and best practices have emerged in geographic customization. Local executions can be developed much quicker nowadays. Many global clients have embraced localized marketing platforms that allow local creatives to extensively tailor marketing efforts while selectively and strategically embracing global tactics.

In some markets it also could be a clever curation of global message and local activation campaigns, in order to achieve the perfect balance.

So, it is true that there is no such thing as universal “global executions”, but there is still a strong case for “global thinking”, “global creative platform”, “global brand proposition”, whatever you choose to call it.

Volvo Trucks_The Epic Split_Van Damme_00000By chance or by design, a global idea is a perfect balance in logic and magic. (The “Epic Split” by Volvo Truck)

Brands are now created with a global mindset

To be successful these days, no matter what category you are in, when conceiving and developing a new product or service, international strategy needs to be considered. It is even more so for technology brands that has to go global at an early stage of its roll out, in order to gain traction and scale. Therefore, from the product proposition, brand naming and identity down to the marketing touchpoints, the dynamics of global need to be considered. You need to think from the outside in, and consider the broader picture from day one.

Some brands were even only being made possible with a global “problem” as a starting point. Think Airbnb’s “sharing economy” among the “borderless tribes”; and Opower uses a combination of data and clever psychology to cut across geographic boundaries. Their success was not based on just insights drawn from a single region in silo, but from a global perspective.

“Advertising” then naturally needs to be global. Not in terms of execution, but developing a universal baseline of promise that will allow local executions and expressions to flourish.

Airbnb Brand News_00001Often, a global idea starts with a global insight  (The inspiration behind the Airbnb “Belong everywhere” brand message.)

Don’t confuse consistency with standardization

With trends moving toward social media and digital placements, consistency of message and brand execution become even greater challenges. I have explained it in previous blogs on this topic so I am not repeating too much here.

The bottom line is, truly local executions take the global platform a step further, not a step back.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches_00001Consistency is to unearth the human truth, not just the product truth (The “Real Beauty Sketches” by Dove)

The fame factor

There are other strong reasons for developing global campaign. Costs and efficiency may seem to be the obvious drivers, but increasingly, there are more instrumental reasons for having a strong global presence.

Sir john Hegarty often talks about the power of legacy media, in particularly TV commercials, to create what he describes as the “fame” effect, in his book “Hegarty on Creativity: There are no rules” he talked about the power of fame:

…Great creativity has a life beyond the confines of the audience it was originally conceived for. It becomes iconic, instantly recognizable and powerfully influential. In reaching this status it becomes the benchmark for everything else that follows, rewriting the way the world looks at things…

I can argue that it’s exactly what a truly global platform could achieve. There are compelling reasons to create a big wave of consistent messaging and brand experience across markets. You cannot achieve real “fame” in any category without having an ambition to go beyond local or regional impact.

A message to the creatives

So creative folks, no matter if you are striving to develop a global creative platform, or taking the challenge of transforming a global idea for the local markets, I like to leave you with a few encouraging tips:

To those who are coming up with a global platform:

  • Don’t think that a global idea has to be dumbed down with the lowest common denominator in order to be applied globally, cause it is not.
  • Consider the “human truth”, not just “product truth”, cause that is what gives the ideas wings.
  • Taking the time to understand the regional marketplaces that make up the global market takes insights, patience, determination, curiosity, and utmost professionalism.
  • Co-create with your local counterparts and involve them at an earlier stage.

To those who have the opportunity to take an idea global:

  • A successful creative adaptation and implementation of a brilliant campaign for a local market takes equal effort as in coming up with a standalone original concept. You are not offering an after-thought.
  • Be open-minded, and ditch the conventional definition of “consistency”. Develop local executions that build on the global creative platform.
  • Don’t just do it, ask “why”.

Blog_global

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00045

You can tell a lot about a person by the apps on the front screen of their phones. For Apple, you can tell a lot about a person by the front cover of their MacBook Air!

A new TVC for the latest generation of MacBook Air features over 100 customized front covers of the machine. The graphics all integrate perfectly with the Apple logo (complete with scratches and dents). It symbolizes the fact that consumers are now taking charge of any brand.

These days, for ideas to soar, we have to transfer ownership of the idea to people, so it can be integrated with local culture. Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign replacing the logo with thousands of people’s names has been a success all over the world. The recent Airbnb identity celebrates the “share economy” by allowing hosts to customize the Airbnb “Bélo” logo with their choice, turning the brand into something that people feel they belong to. A customizable idea is the secret of a global campaign.

The visual oriented execution of the new MacBook Air is a perfect example to demonstrate that ideas can naturally go global, without any worry about cultural differences. I can imagine that the execution could also be tailored-made with such accuracy and relevancy for each market, without losing the essence of the creative platform. The potential to allow the idea to flourish in different social media platforms, letting consumers to customize, tag, pin, share and follow, is enormous.

Who said there’s no such thing as global ideas?

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00051

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00053

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00054

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00050

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00046

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00038

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00042

 

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00087

Apple - MacBook Air - TV Ad - Stickers_00086

 

 

 

Airbnb introduces the Bélo  the story of a symbol of belonging_00001

Airbnb had just unveiled their new identity as part of a brand overhaul. Many people would say that it’s time for the brand to think global. Afterall, in 2013, it was reported that more than 10 million guests stayed at an Airbnb rental. On a global scale, counting “beds on offer”, Airbnb is already the fifth-largest “hotelier” in the world, with unparalleled global reach. However, despite the scale of its success, what does the brand stands for?

Technology brands traditionally tend to believe that better products will win the market, therefore putting brand building as something of a luxury or an afterthought. They often also need to push to the market quickly and going global from day one, very little thoughts have been put in crafting something that works across different cultures.

So it is great to see that Airbnb starts to think more holistically. In 2013, their strategy was to build the company into one that delivers “a seamless end-to-end experience when its customers travel”. That’s a pretty transformational statement. Let’s take a look at some of the areas that the new identity will help to achieve this in the long run.

A meaningful story

For a brand to succeed, it has to mean something – something that matters to people they want to connect with. If it doesn’t, no matter how sharp the graphic design of the logo, or how unique the choice of color, fonts and all that, it will not work. Airbnb has crafted a rather interesting message here. In the introduction video that accompanies the launch, it eloquently explains that while the world is getting bigger, people feel less connected. Recognizing the desire of people to connect and share, is the reason why the brand stands for a world where people can “belong everywhere”.

For a change, even the logo has a name. It’s called Bélo. The key message is that it has transformed the “transaction” from a pure mechanical “accommodation booking” to a “connector” from which you can find a place where you feel you belong to. Like a friend with a name.

There is indeed a trend that we all crave for human interaction in the world of digital channels. When you buy a book from Amazon, it might add to the memory and experience if you know that someone you know is also reading the same book. Recent research also have found that LinkedIn lacks the emotional attachments that encourage people to stay and spend time on the platform, which sparked the recent brand positioning drive worldwide.

Giving power back to the consumers

Consumers no longer engage with one-sided marketing messages. Social media has further intensified this relationship. Consumers are now more connected as they have an easy access to information. The battleground is now leveled and consumers have all the power to shape your brand and bend it right. It makes sense that this way of thinking starts right from how the brand is conceived, literally.

“The community has outgrown the brand” Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, said passionately about how “friendship” is an element of the brand that has been so underrepresented.

The Airbnb Bélo was designed to be accessible and universal so that it “can be drawn by everyone”. To facilitate that, users of Airbnb can personalize the logo and place in their property or share it with the community. The companion project “Create Airbnb” has put this in practice and let the users to experiment with it. The notion of a “shared brand identity” is a bold one (though I have to stress that it is not the first time that a brand has done it) and it shows the brand’s confidence and really meant what they say.

Create Airbnb(The create airbnb website)

More important, this is not just a trademark, but a platform for future growth. It paves the way for the development of other “sharing-economy services” down the road. At the end, a good identity defines what the business is and where it is going.

Creating a culture and a movement

The idea that the logo is so simple that anyone can draw it, and so basic that it’s not likely to be drawn the same way twice, connotes something larger than the logo itself. It celebrates and embraces diversity and recognizes the fact that everyone is different. Unlike a typical hotel brand that guests may need to conform to what the brand projects, with Airbnb, you have the feeling that you are in charge.

A brand is no longer just about the product, but about creating a culture and a “movement”.

Airbnb collage

So, what’s next?

I hope the new brand identity really lives up to the brand’s ambitions, and provides a fertile ground for product extensions. Whether the rather bold statement and fully customizable brand identity will be able to withstand the risks that in certain markets there could be a sudden influx of copycats bearing a similar “identity” is yet to be seen. But I think as a defining statement of what the brand stands for, it is instrumental in crafting a pretty clear and sharp picture.

What I think also interesting is how the identity could be interpreted for the users in different countries, and how the message of “belonging” could be adapted globally, regardless of territories or language barriers.

Share A Coke campaign

Great global ideas do not come about easily. There is always the challenge when an idea works really well in one market, but does not resonate with the consumers in another. There is also the misconception of consistency and the danger of adapting global ideas for the local market without taking into consideration of the context, focusing more on the similarities and not the differences.

Traditionally, the narrow definition of a great global idea means the ability to adopt the same message and adapt it for the local market, maintaining ‘brand consistency’ and maximise cost savings. While this is still true in the broad sense, it is no longer enough. Not only the guiding message needs to be adapted, or transformed, to connect with local audiences, in a connected world, the way that the message is ignited is also likely to be different.

A recent campaign of Coca Cola was a good example.

The ‘Share a Coke’ campaign was first started in Australia (originated by Ogilvy). Overnight, the much loved, but often overlooked, Coca Cola changed the logo on the bottles to 150 of Australia’s most popular names. It took the entire country by surprised.

The strategic thinking behind the campaign was that for a big global iconic brand like Coca Cola, people don’t find it ‘personal’ enough. The campaign was so successful that it was subsequently launched in markets including Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and the UK. This year, the China team (working with Leo Burnett Shanghai) adapted the campaign by applying local creativity. Instead of showing people’s names on the bottle, they put the very local and colloquial ‘nicknames’ that are fondly used by Chinese among friends.

icoke_webpage

A quick recap on how the idea has been transformed in different countries:

Australia – the original:

UK: (similar execution for the Netherlands and Belgium)

Greece:

China:

The result is an authentic execution building on local culture and nuances. Not only did the idea travel, but they also managed to adapt it creatively for each local market, so that the consumers felt that the idea was created natively for them.

Each market also had their own way to connect with the people. In Australia, the campaign was activated by an interactive billboard at Kings Cross in Sydney, taking advantage of the digital technology and transfer people’s names instantly through SMS messaging. In China, widely recognised as a mobile-first market, an app was designed to facilitate sharing of the chosen ‘nickname’ to people’s friends via social networking platforms.

Interactive outdoors billboard in Australia:

An app created for the China market:

icoke_app

Such creativity blurred the boundaries between origination and adaptation. I call it creative solutions.

This is the kind of creativity that every successful global campaign requires. Miles Young of Ogilvy Group commented recently that with budgets under pressure, clients aren’t prepared any more to have advertising developed in every one of those markets by local agencies. I also think that a shared brand vision globally can deepen the cohesiveness of the corporate culture internally and maximize the power of collaboration.

Date_Creativity

There are certain debates that seem almost impossible to have a conclusion.

…Left brain versus right brain.

…Is advertising an art or a science?

…Is technology an enabler of creativity or in fact leading to predictable solutions?

…Data versus creativity?

With digital media gaining credibility through archiving highly measurable results, marketers are convinced that ‘Big Data’ will be the number one item on the CEO’s agenda in 2013.

On the other hand, creative folks continuously argue that data kills creativity. In a recent conference organized by Thinkbox in the UK, top creative directors and planners expressed their concerns that creative ideas are often ‘over analysed and pasteurised’.

In the US, leading creatives from interactive agencies even think that ‘data driven creative equals mediocre creative’, since it only encourage risk avoidance. Data does not equal to insight.

At Spikes Asia 2012, a panel of media professionals advocated that ‘data-led creativity is more than just hype, it’s the future’.

While at the Cannes Festival of Creativity 2012, a session hosted by Adobe was entitled ‘Is data killing creativity?’

The strong themes coming through from the session were that a balance needs to be achieved between the two. Data can identify the questions, but creativity must answer them and data must NEVER replace instinct.

Which side are you on?

The answer? There is no black and white conclusion.

What I believe is that data will only gain increasingly important and be considered as part of the tools to verify future direction and strategy. We will all be given much more access to data in more forms. Click-through rate, engagement rate, video playtime, the lists go on and new buzzwords being invented everyday.

When was the last time you attended a presentation either from creatives or strategists, that not a single data was mentioned as support of any argument?

However, data is not always the most powerful piece of evidence that can effectively strengthen any argument. As simple and straightforward as these little ‘evidence’ promise to be, if not used carefully, can create more problems than they solve. Of course there is also the critical cultural differences, what works in one culture does not necessarily mean the same data will apply in another market.

As creatives, instead of fighting against it, we should be more inclusive. We should interrogate it, understand the context around it, learn how to read data and use it wisely. We should also know how to interpret it in the context of the culture and adapt it to make it relevant for the specific brand and local market. Use data as raw materials to transform into innovative campaign platform, like the recent Topshop campaign I have talked about in previous blog. Elevate big creative ideas to ‘smart creative platform’ drawing on insights from data.

Planners, on the other hand, should make sure we are not relying on what had been a hit and success as evidenced by historical data, for that will only lead to me-too creative ideas. We need foresights not mere hindsight.

In one word, it’s teamwork.

At the Advertising Week Europe conference next week, there will be a presentation by Yahoo on the ‘Power of Personalisation’. Let’s see how we can use data to fuel creativity rather than killing it.