There are some ads made in this country that even Scots don’t understand, so the announcement that Serbians are to be subjected to the HEBS anti-smoking ad featuring mock girl group, Stinx almost makes you feel sorry for them.
When the HEBS ad first aired, its success couldn’t have been predicted. When the Stinx advert aired in Scotland, it proved so popular in Scotland, that the soundtrack, ‘Why do you Keep Running Boy?’ was released as a single, selling over 10,000 copies and reaching number eight in the Scottish charts.
Stinx was one of several anti-smoking adverts created by The Bridge for HEBS (now NHS Health Scotland). Another, ‘Smoke Snakes’ - which was shown in Ireland following its success in Scotland - is also being sought by the Serbian officials in their campaign.
Martin Raymond co-director of Cloudline and former HEBS client, originally introduced the Serbian officials to the Stinx campaign. “I think it worked because it communicated a message visually, very strongly and very clearly,” he says. “Even if you don’t understand the words of the song, it’s still quite clear what’s going on in the advert. So the communication is very clear. Young people in Europe are very familiar with Western pop songs and culture. A lot of young people learn English from pop songs, so the fact that it was in English wasn’t quite as big a disadvantage as it might have been. It’s one of these adverts that if you listen to it with the sound down you still know what’s going on. One of the things that the Serbians liked very much about the Scottish adverts, particularly the health adverts, was that they fitted the Serbian culture quite well. We’ve always been conscious when doing this stuff with Health Scotland, that people don’t like to be told what to do. They don’t like being lectured. They don’t like being directed. Serbian culture is like that too. They don’t like to be told what to do. They’ve had fifty years of quite authoritarian political views there and a lot of propaganda so they’re very suspicious of the Government telling them what to do.”
“International advertising can be fantastic or it can be really dire,” says Brian Crook, managing director of The Bridge. “You can think of some of the worst adverts in the world that are international ads. This isn’t something that was done as an international ad and it wasn’t done as something that was meant necessarily to travel. It was done with a great deal of thought and a really strong insight into young people and what makes young people in Scotland tick and how you can influence people in Scotland. If you do a really good job to one group of people - if that group of people having a cigarette is replicated somewhere else in the world and they have the same issues or the same thoughts or the same values - then there’s a potential for that piece of work to travel. We have no knowledge of this project involving Serbia at all, but if it’s true that they think the advert will work in Serbia then it’s because the work does have a genuine insight into the way that young people interact with each other and the way that young people interact with society. That is the strength of the work we did.”
The music plays a big part in the ad’s success, according to its former producer.
“I think they’ve been quite clever in what they’ve done,” says Daniel Healy, now head of production for Lucid. “British pop music travels everywhere. It’s a medium that foreign speaking countries are going to be familiar with already. They’re used to singing along to whatever it may be, so the concept wouldn’t be too alien to them. I think that the visuals will work too, as the message there is quite simple.”
But if Scotland is able to promote a subject such as the possible health problems caused by smoking, and do it to a specific audience then there may be more possibilities for commercial advertising to translate.
Healy feels that more UK adverts will be able to be used in different countries in the future. “I don’t see why more clients and agencies couldn’t do this,” he says. “As long as you keep your message clear - and that’s the main thing that you get across - then I don’t see why it shouldn’t work. More countries are becoming familiar with the English language and you get virals now that go world-wide and people get those with no dubbing or subtitles.”
But not all ads can go international. “It very much depends on the style of the ad and its relevance to the local audience,” says Ian Dommet, managing director of Golley Slater Edinburgh. “HEBS works well because a number of the ads appeared to use actors who did not talk directly to camera. This avoided the difficulty of dubbing. Domestic violence and a number of other social issues have also been handled well. If ads like these research well in other countries, I would suggest that they should be reshot to ensure that the ideas are put into a local context. By doing this they will have more impact.”
Gareth Howells, creative director of Newhaven, believes that a good subject matter is important in translation. “Certain issues have universal understanding, like smoking, drinking and general health,” he says. “On saying that, Guinness uses a different strategy in Africa. They even brew it differently to cater for the African taste. I also think you could run the Tennent’s Voodoo ad south of the border or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. It’s got no dialogue and the story is simple to take in. We always get requests from France and Canada for copies of Tennent’s ads. They seem to like them.”
While adverts might be able to translate to foreign countries to sell their messages or product through a strong gimmick or story, how can adverts with dialogue cross boundaries and still be successful to an audience that wasn’t initially meant to view it? Sue Mullen, managing director of Story believes on occasion foreign accents did not detract from an advert’s message. “Appropriate accents can sometimes help but it is not necessarily a given – sometimes an international accent can take the message on to a bigger stage; it really depends on the ad execution and product,” she says. “Can you imagine Audi ads without a German voice? We have just, this month, produced a commercial, which will be viraled around the world for Ardbeg whisky. This, to our knowledge, will be the first all Gaelic speaking commercial seen in at least 120 different countries. The idea we have created is universal and will be understood by everyone regardless of the language.”
Mark Graham, creative director at Clayton Graham expands on this, feeling that an accent contained in an advert should be relevant to its brand. “When advertising regional and national brands, the accent should be relevant to that area - we wouldn’t want a Yorkshire voiceover advertising Irn-Bru. However, on an international level, foreign accents, predominantly American, can be used to enhance a product’s appeal, for example, Nike adverts with American voiceovers.”
However, some don’t agree that accents can add anything. “It helps if the execution is visual and doesn’t rely on dialogue, as to us the comedic effect of dubbing eclipses any empathy we may have with the characters on screen,” says Peter Murphy, creative director of WWAV Rapp Collins. “We've all seen too many spaghetti westerns and kung fu movies to take a dubbed ad seriously in Britain. But in emerging markets with limited budgets and a high level of imported programming, they're used to movies being dubbed or subtitled and, for them, the comedy effect is lessened. However casting and location are also almost impossible to get right for more than one country and still leave the viewer with the feeling ‘that’s my life’ or ‘I feel like that.’ For us in Britain, there are ads that break all the rules and appear to be so bad they seem to go around the back and come out the other side as brilliant. The undisputed king of these has to be Ferrero Rocher’s ‘The Ambassador's Reception’. From the pigeon English of ‘Ambassador, you're really spoiling us’ to the absurdity of the butler waiting for his master’s signal before serving his pyramid of chocolates, the ad is awful, funny and endearing at the same time. This is the exception, and I'm not even sure it was dubbed, but that’s how people remember it. In its defence, often dubbing an ad made for another market is the only way for some products to have a presence on TV in some countries. At its worst, it’s a lazy way for agencies to service Pan European accounts.”
And consumers can recognise lazy advertisers. “If you’re working on something where you’re trying to say, ‘we understand you as a target audience, we know what it’s like’ and it’s then dubbed, then quite clearly it wasn’t done specifically for them,” says Crook. “When you see ads - whether they are international ads for soap powders, or toothpastes or Kinder eggs or whatever - they just feel slightly patronising. It just doesn’t seem as though it’s genuine.”
With the world connected through the internet and television stations, advertising has never had such a large potential audience to sell to. Already Scottish products such as Irn Bru and many whiskies are marketed internationally. Now, even less internationally-orientated clients will begin to see the potential of the market that is now available to them simply through the touch of a button.