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