The Atticus Under-30 Essay is an initiative designed to discover some of the brightest young writing talents in the WPP fold. This year's subject was 'The Global Brand: A Contradiction in Terms?' Below is the winning entry, by Amanda Feve.
The Global Brand: A contradiction in terms?
First it was the rum shops, festooned with Guinness pendants, in the backstreets of Bridgetown, Barbados. And then there was the sighting in Paris, the putative fashion capital of the world, of America's supermarket of style: Gap. By the time I spotted a huge Coca-Cola logo on the roof of a farmhouse in rural Ecuador, the evidence seemed incontrovertible: the global brands are upon us.1
Or are they? In his ingeniously titled 'Posh Spice and Persil
, Jeremy Bullmore argues that the global brand is not merely "a contradiction in terms," but an actual "impossibility".
I find this statement mildly troubling, to say the least, as it was the pervasiveness of what I considered to be global brands that lured me into this industry in the first place. Bullmore argues, in essence, that brands reside in the minds of consumers, brand image is a subjective entity, and therefore that global brands cannot exist. While I agree with his logic, I take issue with his conclusion. Brands are, in his own words, "fiendishly complicated, elusive, slippery" things, and thus difficult to characterise in the absolute. And while consumers' relationships with a particular brand may differ slightly from market to market, who is to say that one brand cannot connote certain values everywhere it exists?
Before we proceed further, let us articulate just what we mean by a global brand. As Theodore Levitt first argued two decades ago, global is more than geography, it is a way of operating. To borrow from his distinction between global and multinational corporations,3
I would argue that a multinational brand is one that exists in a variety of markets (but is understood differently by consumers in different markets), whereas a global brand is one that is similarly understood across the markets in which it operates. And while global brands must be "resolutely consistent" in their strategy, I would suggest that they may be slightly flexible in their execution, adapting stimuli locally, when necessary, in the hopes of achieving a global response.
Let's spare ourselves the tedium of identifying global brand exemplars, as we all know who they are, and turn to the bigger issue at hand. While there are global brands, they are few and far between. And the reason for this is shockingly simple: a global brand cannot exist in the absence of global brand stewardship.
I once had the opportunity to work on a global account. Historically, the brand in question had confined its advertising strategy and execution to the domestic level, as do many brands of its size. But one day our client's Global Brand Team made an exciting decision: it was time to migrate out of the Dark Ages and into the enlightened age of global brand management.
Our first step was to develop a global brand proposition, which was then vetted through all of the 'local' (country-specific) brand teams. Once the strategy was agreed, we developed a global creative brief, which was then fed to teams in each of the markets in which the creative would ultimately run. While art directors and copywriters beavered away, we partnered with a qualitative research company to design a global methodology for use across markets. When all was said and done, we conducted a creative exploratory of four routes in eight markets, and the findings were more than encouraging. Despite the vagaries of translation, the persistence of cultural differences, and the egos of all the decision makers involved, research uncovered that the brand's global proposition resonated strongly with our target. In the course of the debrief, we were told that one of the creative routes showed great promise, regardless of the respondents' country of origin.
I would love to tell you about the great in-market results that the new campaign achieved or all of the creative awards that it won. But it never ran. After all of our endeavours toward streamlining global campaign development, evaluation, and execution, we found ourselves confronted with an authority vacuum. The global brand team was keen to pursue the global path, while local market exigencies convinced domestic teams that they were better off proceeding with further creative development on their own. In the blink of an eye, all of the 'global' creative was consigned to oblivion on a share drive somewhere, the global team on the agency side was dismantled, and each of the local brand teams resumed normal relations with their domestic agency counterparts.
On the basis of this experience, it's tempting to conclude that it is easy to build a global brand in theory, but fiendishly complicated in practice. And this may well be true. But that's not to say that it can't be done. Consider Mars. Once upon a time, a self-audit uncovered not only that Snickers and Marathon were the same product with a different brand name, but that the portfolio was riddled with inconsistent pack design from one country to the next. Rather than allowing this schizophrenic model of brand management to persist, a decision was taken to establish 'Global Brand Guardians' charged with "maintaining the worldwide integrity of the brand and implementing changes to bring local countries closer together."4
Let us learn from the successes and failures of global brand management alike. As my ill-fated example illustrates, clearly delineated roles for global and local teams (be they client or agency side) are a prerequisite for successful and cohesive brand stewardship. And as the case of Mars shows, single-minded brand management need not be the sole province of first generation brands like Virgin and Pret A Manger.
We can't change the fact that brands are built in people's heads, nor should we endeavour to. But if we commit ourselves to realigning the brand management structure to support global brand stewardship, and temper this change with an added boost of co-operation and humility, we may realise our global brand ambitions yet. After all, if Posh Spice can build a global brand, surely we can too.
1 All of these observations were recorded during my itinerant student days, as I grappled with all-important life questions including "So, what are you doing after graduation?"
2 As reprinted in More Bullmore: Behind the Scenes in Advertising (Mark III). World Advertising Research Center. 2003
3 "The multinational corporation operates in a number of countries, and adjusts its products and practices in each... The global corporation operates with resolute consistency... it sells the same things in the same way everywhere." Levitt, T. "The Globalization of Markets." Harvard Business Review. May-June 1983
4 Baker, J. and Ryan, K. "Global Branding - Marketing Theory versus Reality." ESOMAR Triad 2000: Marketing and Research Towards the Millennium. 1995.
Source: Atticus 10 (2004), p82