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.


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

Mother’s Day is celebrated on different days and dates around the world. But in almost every culture, mothers play an important role in the family. Brands understand that, and will take every good opportunity to win over their hearts.

In the Chinese culture, women often are the ultimate decision maker in anything related to the household. Here’s a brilliant analyses of this insight from Tom Doctoroff:

Despite Mao’s famous saying that women hold up half the sky, even “liberated” female consider their role inside the home paramount. In the West, working mothers struggle with balancing career and family satisfaction. In China, the battle is much less fierce; the kid wins, hands down…So, to bond with your female “head of the household” target, tell her she is really really needed. Without her, there would be no family harmony.

In America, mothers don’t really want to see the “perfect mom” in advertising. They consider that the image of perfection is frustrating to watch, rather than aspirational. Kate Reddy, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, in the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It only exists in fairy-tales. On the other hand, if brands portray the “real mom” image, it is too close to home – a reminder of the frustrations, rather than a positive view. However, one thing they have in common – they all want to see a positive image that shows the brand delivering a realistic improvement in their life.

In the Thai culture, where people in urban families rarely show their love to each other publicly, a commercial by DATC (see below) made it even more inspiring, and in a way, started a ‘movement’ in the local market.

From food, financial services, retail, communication products to public service; and from China, Thailand, Singapore, Brazil to the UK, this emotion works unfailingly. When executed well and honestly, the effect could be very powerful.

At the time when we celebrate Mother’s Day, I would like to share with you some of the commercials from different countries that capture this sentiment.

I also love to hear from you if there are any great campaigns describing the love of mothers that reflect the unique culture of your country.

John Lewis, United Kingdom

LamSoon, Hong Kong

DTAC, Thailand

Thai Life Insurance (Mae Toi), Thailand


thinkfamily.sg, Singapore

Note: This public service spot was directed by the award winning film director, Yasmin Ahmad.

▼Bud Light “Wedding Dress”

▼Oxo Cubes: Remember Preston

▼Calbee Cappa Chips: That’s Life

Heinz Baked Beans: Margaret

Tesco: Cheerful Sole

*Special thanks to Helena Rosario from Portugal and Nattavut Leekulpitak from Thailand who sent me their favourite commercials.

Happy Mother’s Day. Wherever you are.

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

It all started with the ‘T’ word

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

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

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

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

In many ways, my philosophy has never changed.

What does ‘transcreation’ really mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is ‘transcreation’ the only answer?

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

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

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

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

Enter Trans-origination

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

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

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

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

How to be a ‘trans-originator’

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

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

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

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

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

Less theory. More practice.

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

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

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

I like to hear your thoughts.

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

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