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.

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:

When a western brand enters a foreign market, a lot of people will first set sight on the name. However, a name, as important as it seems, is just part of the defining factors. Let’s take a look at how a few brands across different categories have done recently.

Fashion

When American casual fashion brand Old Navy opened their 22,000 square foot, three-level flagship store in Shanghai in March, they did not launch with a Chinese name. Critics came pouring in right after. Some people criticised the overtly American presentation in their merchandising and launch activities. Old Navy may not be a brand that can accelerate so quickly in the market. Their parent brand GAP (also without a consumer facing Chinese name) launched their own-brand shop in 2010 in China, and is still gradually finding their way in the market. Shanghai is likely to act as their platform to anchor their presence and pave the way for a nation-wide launch of their e-commerce business, and that will be the time when their Chinese brand name will play an important role.

Old Navy_screen

Within the everyday fashion category, it is common for brands to launch without their Chinese name. H&M and ZARA, among others, all followed the same formula. When I worked on the launch of H&M in Shanghai and Hong Kong at the time, what the campaign had managed to achieve was to establish a new ‘category’ in the market. The message was defined through innovative media and owned channels such as their own house magazines. The brand also came in at a time when the millennial generation emerged, and ‘affordable fashion’ perfectly fits what they need. In a market filled with all kinds of Chinese fashion brand names, it was perhaps wise for these brands to focus on their authenticity. What latecomers like Old Navy need now is to craft the next ‘movement’, and to break the new dress code into the mass market. Perhaps adopting the notion of ‘made with Chinese’ rather than the traditional approach of ‘made for Chinese’, and leverage the impact of co-creation with the younger generation in the country. That, to me, is the real localization tactic.

Food

“今個夏天我會喺銅鑼灣開間好正嘅意大利餐廳。”

This was, apparently, what Jamie Oliver said in his video announcing the opening of Jamie’s Italian in Causeway Bay, the heart of the busiest district in Hong Kong.

Traditionally, food is not an easy export. Even though Italian food is arguably one of the most accessible cuisine in the world, and starting with Hong Kong is going to give the brand a good testing ground of the concept, before they enter further into the mainland market. Jamie Oliver cleverly adopts his down-to-earth persona by appearing to be playful in this promotional video. A subtle way to say, “Hey, mixing with local culture is in my DNA”. If he is clever enough to ride on his personal brand, he should engage with the local market through his fantastic social enterprise activities and food revolution campaigns. I believe there is a market for a meaningful brand – a global one.

Professional social network

LinkedIn中国_00001

In a different category, Linkedin has just announced their expansion in China and has launched a simplified Chinese language beta-site branded “领英” (literally meaning ‘Leading Elite’, phonetically as ‘lǐng yīng’). Linkedin (the global site) claimed to have more than 4 million members within China already, but through the partnership with Sequoia China and CBC, they hope to refine and localize the product’s offerings to the Chinese users. The decision to launch with a Chinese brand name, in their case, will help to make sure the Chinese users can communicate comfortably in native language in a business context. However, whether they can fine-tune the nuisances of the communications within the platform to reflect the Asian way of communications is yet to be seen. And once communications start to involve cross-border interactions, how can they effectively help global users to connect and communicate successfully and seamlessly, is also a crucial element. All these challenges, is not just a well-coined Chinese phrase can help.

Think beyond language

A well thought out localized brand name, is just one of the ways to gain traction in the market. The most important part is whether the brand can identify the ‘market’ for their product. They should have the insight to localize the product elements and understand how they can fit into the lifestyle of the local market. Without a clear positioning, finding a Chinese name may just be another hit and miss exercise.

brand experience China

There is a subtle difference between brand pushing messages to consumers, and letting consumers discover what the brand represents.

Recently, a giant pavilion in the shape of a Louis Vuitton suitcase emerged on Moscow’s Red Square. The construction is part of an exhibition called “The Soul of Travel”, marking Louis Vuitton’s 150th anniversary. The blatant display of branding in a conservative culture didn’t go down well.

In fact, consumers in parts of the world where branded goods used to represent status are now turning towards more subtle expressions of taste. China is one of them, and luxury products have already seen heavily branded merchandises slowly losing their charm.

Brand presence has to be more intelligent, subtle, understated, and localised.

In doing so, brands need to dig deep into their DNA or develop a multidimensional personality, and not just fulfilling a functional benefit. Sportswear is not just for helping people excel in sports performance but as a fashion statement; cosmetics is not just about beauty but about fulfilling a social purpose; and coffee shops are not just about beans but about sharing with friends.

Brands are also becoming more like publishers. Creating content around the brand needs more than just one dimension. To be involved in popular culture, particularly the creative side, gives brands the opportunities to contextualize the brand stories, and build key components of their brand promise. It can also give them “currency” and relevance in specific local markets.

There’s a trend that resonates this movement – brands are making the most of retail space. Not just as a place for transaction of sales, but also as a place where they can project a multidimensional character of their brand.

The beauty and make up company Sephora created a pop-up museum concept in New York entitled “Sensorium” in 2011. The category of perfumes has always been solely relaying on glossy print ads and images, but the interactive journey of the setting of the “Sensorium” space introduces consumers to a new way of appreciation of fragrance. All of a sudden, beauty is not just skin deep, but adds a layer of intelligence to it.

In September this year, Starbucks opened two flagship stores in Beijing. They are not ordinary flagships, they are brand-defining establishments. One, located at Beijing’s glitzy and busiest Kerry Centre, is a 4,000 square-foot, two-story “coffee tribute”. The temple-like space features a giant, bold, Starbucks siren icon on the exterior of the building that illuminates at night. The other “eclectic” version, located in Sanlitun, is a 24/7 operation. Featuring ceiling-to-floor glass windows with a special club on the second floor called “Club 1971” that features live music by local talents on weekends. The Chinese Millennials are in dominance. It also reflects the young Chinese growing up in the one-child system with a strong desire to connect with their brothers and sisters outside the family.

In Shanghai, Under Armour opened its first store in China by blending art and science, presenting the Chinese consumers a sensory journey into the brand. The “retail theatre” is located in the new Jing An Kerry Centre, and designed by Marc Thorpe Design in collaboration with HUSH Studio.

China has a complex relationship with sports, although Chinese athletes are winning more medals in the global stage, but still relatively few Chinese has a personal relationship with sports. Global brands such as adidas adapted their strategy by creating two different divisions, on the one had is their flagship sports performance line; and on the other hand, capturing an aspect that translate sports into lifestyle and fashion. The result is, sub brands such as Originals and Y3 had been successful through the halo effects and the connections with its sports performance heritage, effectively crafting out a strategy that is relevant in the local market.

But developing local product strategy is not enough anymore. The idea behind the Under Armour’s “retail theatre” is to open up the minds of the consumers by redefining the notion of training – not as a pursuit of profession in sports but working to achieve physical greatness. It elevates the proposition from a physical one to an aspirational one.

In an age where authenticity of the brand is so critical that it defines what the brand is all about, by presenting consumers a production quality of epic scale it breaks down the boundary between the physical space and the digital, it will certainly triumphant over any content people get just from small screens.

Creating unique brand experiences is one of the most powerful, immersive means of building a brand. Ultimately, it boils down to making it relevant to local consumers while enabling sharable conversations.

Technology brands are not often good in coming up with their product names. They also tend to focus more on building the best products and put much more emphasis in communicating what the products or services do, from a functional point of view, rather than going for the conceptual or creative approaches.

This is even more so if the technology startup brand is an innovative concept. Conveying the functional side of the product will deem to be more crucial at the early stage of the brand development.

GoToMeeting, Box, WeChat, YouSendIt, Summly…YouNameIt.

These many not be the coolest brand names but they did exactly what the startups need to achieve, especially in an increasingly cluttered marketplace.

There are no one-size-fits-all guide in building a technology brand, but we can certainly learn from the journeys that some of the brands had gone through.

Sometimes, certain names did catch on even though they set out to focus on communicating the functional side. Skype derived their name by cleverly condensing the meaning of ‘Sky Peer to Peer’. The brand Skype is easy to pronounce, with potential of leveraging on the images of ‘sky’ in both messaging and design (the cloud graphics). Nowadays, the brand name has become a verb – ‘Skype me’, as we say. It’s also fair to say that it has travelled well internationally.

Skype taglines

YouSendIt, the cloud storage service, has just announced that its name has changed to Hightail. This is to signal the new vision as led by the new CEO Brad Garlinghouse. In his official announcement on their blog, he comments that the new identity represents the current breadth of their services and also marks the fundamental changes that have happened at the company since he took over as CEO just over a year ago. The move is hardly surprising. The name ‘YouSendIt’ will indeed be very confining, and does not carry the connotation that appeals to their core professional users.

Hightail_logo

WeChat, the mobile text and voice messaging communication service developed by Tencent in China, first released in January 2011. The original name of the app ‘WeiXin’ (微信) literally means ‘micro messaging’. It had grown from 4-5 million users in 2011 to over 100 million by 2012. The growth was phenomenal and hence the ambition to go global. Quickly in response to that, they rebranded as WeChat for the international market in April 2012. This move allowed the international audience to get what the product is quickly, sharing the same universal language. WeChat is a true big global brand in the making, but will they re-define their product in the future and will ‘chat’ start to become a limitation? Time will tell.

So what are the guiding principles when developing a tech brand? Here I share with you some of my thoughts:

Define your brand early: Tech startups need to be as crisp as possible in defining what their point of difference is because they’re entering a very cluttered marketplace. They should also take full advantage of being starting from a blank canvas and refine their brand early. I also argue that sometimes it should start with a brand before developing the product. Once you have identified what people really needs, everything will flow into place.

Be world-ready: From the brand name to the representation and various interpretations of the brand, embrace diversity and have a world-view on what the identity means to people in different cultures. A brand name needs to have the capacity to endure velocity of the marketplace and the swift changes in people’s needs. Do it with foresight, not hindsight.

Which tech brands do you think have got their branding done right? What are the differences between branding for tech startups versus other products and services? I like to hear your thoughts.