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

When developing a global campaign for a local market, the first thing many people might consider is how do we maintain the global idea and adapt it in a creative way so that it is relevant to the local market.

Or make sure we use local creative talent to craft the content, from copywriting, art direction down to every detail in the execution. Making sure that the advertising appears just like it was created with the local audience in mind in the first place.

Perhaps choosing the right media-mix with targeted consumer touchpoints that works best for the local consumers. Such as creating outdoor billboards for Latin America, or enhancing consumer engagement with a concerted social media initiative for China.

All of the above are true.

But one fundamental question we sometimes forget to consider is whether the product itself needs to be fine-tuned.

A mobile phone brand could be a business tool in one market but a fashion accessory and status symbol in another.

A hotel brand may appeal to leisure travellers in one country but has developed with a stronger business travellers focus in another.

The brand core values remain globally universal, but the way the product is “formulated” can be different. That goes beyond just crafting the global advertising and making it work, but take a step back and look at how the product can be localised and presented.

Sometimes it means getting out of the brand’s own comfort zone.

That was what Oreo had done.

In China, Oreo has always been popular among kids. Their tagline “扭一扭,舔一舔,泡一泡” (roughly translated as “Twist it. Lick it. Dunk it.”) was established ever since the brand launched it back in 1996. The product is synonymous with the child-like style of fun. But they seem to have fallen into a victim of their success. Kids reaching a certain age have grown out of it, and stop finding it relevant to them.

So Oreo recently reinvented an extension of the product by introducing a “slim version” targeting to the trendy female adult audiences. Supported by a locally relevant multi-platform campaign and social media push. The brand personality of “fun” has been maintained, while attracting and retaining a new audience segment along the way.

oreo-thin-kv-flavor

Great global brands can be twisted, shaped and turned in all sorts of ways yet still remain recognisable. Different communication strategy needs to be considered at different stage of market development.

At the end, adapting a global campaign of a global brand is a marketing exercise, not just an executional exercise.

What are some of the other good examples that you have come across in your local market?

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

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00024

I often say that a great idea does not have language barriers. Because deep down there is a universal truth that can always be translated in any culture.

I also often advocate that when localizing a global idea or creative platform, think beyond language. Because language though is important, is not the defining factor.

The recent stunt turned video content for Toyota Yaris Hybrid car is a perfect example.

Conceived by the Saatchi & Saatchi Europe team, the campaign was designed to launch the new Toyota Yaris Hybrid, riding on the existing creative platform of “Fall in love with driving again”. In one day, they turned the centre of Prague into “The Musical City”. The street signs were changed to read cheesy pop songs titles that anyone would sing along to. Activated by the GPS-connected stereo, the car played out the backing track of the relevant song, as the participants driving through the city – literally loving every minute of the driving experience.

Staged? May be. But certainly a great video that gets the brand message across.

There are a few brilliant things about this video:

1. The film featured great shots of the city. This is essential to gain support of the local authority while adding distinctive local flavours to the film.

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00013

2. The act of removing original street signs gave the film added credibility. It was staged and controlled but executed in an authentic way – with a touch of humour.

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00026

3. The very essential, and relevant, beautiful car shots were done in a seamless way. I am sure anyone who has involved in car commercials will know how important that is!

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00034

4. The product feature was so naturally incorporated in the film. The hard sell element was done in a non-contrived way so that people won’t feel hesitant in sharing the content. Sharing, ultimately, is what we want!

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00030

5. The universally appeal sing-a-long, with fun choice of cheesy pop song titles makes the idea and execution easy to travel beyond one territory. Not only does the film sit well in social media platforms (which is inherently global), it can easily be localized with a local touch in other cities. Japan? Brilliant. China? Absolutely. France? … Let’s check with ARPP.

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00028

6. It works perfectly with the existing creative platform “fall in love with driving again”. The creative execution was not done in isolation and detached from the other parts of the brand message. Think “multi-channel” is important.

New Toyota Yaris Hybrid | The Musical City_00019

 

Now take a look at the film:

Let’s also take a look at other previous executions of the same platform for other markets, and see how they differ:

UK:

Italy:

Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00001

We ought to be excited when we saw this video. Commissioned by Adidas, designed to be coincide with the World Cup season, it featured an artistic interpretation of the brand’s ongoing “All In or Nothing” proposition. It’s the perfect example of brands creating cultural properties in the world of branded content.

Entitled “Work Relation”, the three-minute film captured the first ever re-staging of the iconic 1970s performance of the same title by Abramović and her partner at the time Ulay. In the statement from Adidas, they described it as a performance that “focuses on commitment, teamwork and the strength found in togetherness – reimagined through the lens of the 2014 FIFA World Cup”.

As part of the World Cup themed content, it was not the usual celebrity fuelled spot, nor did it deliver yet another manifesto type of script. It was actually a surprise in many levels. The collaboration is one – not a lot of artists are willing to let commercial brand take such a big part in their original piece of art. Timeliness is another – Marina Abramović is currently staging a premiere of her new durational performance at the Serpentine Gallery London.

Yet there is a certain kind of uneasiness about the film.

Perhaps it is the unnecessary placement of the product in the performance.

Perhaps it is the deliberateness of the set up. (In the reenacted piece, eleven performers reference the total members of a football team.)

Perhaps it is the over rationalization – or over simplification – of the idea of teamwork.

Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00012

The “human chain” passing the stone by hand was described to be “the most efficient method”. “The chain has the most endurance. The chain stays forever.” says Marina in the voice over. We all know that the human chain is, in fact, not exactly teamwork, nor can it be called collaboration. It depicts the most primitive form of assembly line work. Each person in the human chain has the identical skill, not complementing each other. They might collectively accomplish a “task”, but they will never be able to innovate.

In the video, the eleven performers were recruited from “varying walks of life” and probably have never trained with each other before. That is a fundamental key element in any collaboration, and is not being represented in the piece.

In a true collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one will always equal more than two.

Teamwork is often chaotic and messy. And it may not always last. But it is the most enjoyable, and the only way to be creative.

If we choose to be rational, we can analyse it forever. But debates, discussions and active engagement from the consumers are what brands really want nowadays, especially if brands want to become cultural properties of the world. In one of the interviews of Marina Abramović in the book “Live Art and Performance” (published in 2004), she pointed out the need to “elevate” the public in order for them to experience art:

“…They (the public) have to make this radical step of not being an observer anymore, or a passive thing, but being participants. It’s essential, they have to be creative to finish the work.”

May be that’s what the best content should be – being open-ended, let the consumers interpret it themselves and own a piece of it. May be that’s the point.

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.