How do you truly advertise and engage at a global scale? The cultural, tech and creative challenges

Brands are like goldfish - they grow to the size of the tank they’re in. In an ever more connected world, in which technology allows brands to expand far beyond the country in which they were founded, brands are striving to go global.

But that in turn comes with huge challenges. An advertising message that works in one territory will not necessary work in another, and values that appeal to an audience on one side of the world might not for the other. Beyond that, issues of ensuring that a logo or marketing material is instantly recognisable across a huge range of languages and fonts is vital though difficult: the marketing landscape is littered with examples of brands getting it wrong.

At a session at The Drum Arms, in partnership with Peach, held during the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, a panel of experts shared their insights into the trends around global advertising, to determine what best practice around solving operational problems in international marketing looks like.

Huge risks, huge rewards

The panel began by discussing the benefits of doing truly global advertising properly. They noted that while revenue growth is typically seen as the largest benefit, an international presence confers more than just cachet to a brand and can in fact lead to deeper engagement with audiences no matter where they live.

Despite that, the panellists believe that doing so still relies on brands having a strong foundation of content creation on which to build. Ross Priestley, group commercial director for Peach, explained: “The advantage for brands really starts with having the great idea. The global campaign isn’t good just by dint of being global. Being able to spread that idea round the world consistently and in a timely manner gives brands the great benefits of brand equity and brand visibility that they haven't had before.”

His point was taken up by Kevin Lemberg, head of partnerships- ad platform at Comcast Technology Solutions, who argued that the need to go global has led to an increase in the quality of content across the board: “Today content is global and when you look at the audiences who are following it across the globe and across all of these new avenues and new opportunities… that content has to actually follow the actual premium content that the audience is. So, you're able to reach a broader, a more engaged, a more targeted audience if you're following that content.”

He cited the rise of YouTube and Facebook videos, which both democratised digital video but also led to widespread expectation for high-quality video content, as an example of how the wider industry should follow premium content.

David Kassler, global CEO, Tag, further elaborated, stating that the value of content is that it allows for the creation of ‘tribes’, centred around and highly engaged by that content. Effectively, it’s not so much about undifferentiated audiences at a global scale as it is about reaching more pockets of engaged users within those audiences, enabled by new tech.

Kassler added: “The advent of global platforms, particularly online, mean that brands can finally transcend national borders… and that you’ll see tribes emerge in consumers that mean more than just geographically… about how they buy, how they shop online, and so on.”

One idea, split one hundred ways

No matter how solid that idea or how well it can be communicated through new tech options, however, a campaign means nothing if it isn’t made relevant to local audiences. Global brands recognise this and are undergoing a process of reinvention to ensure that their messages are tailored to each new territory.

Jillian Gibbs, founder and global CEO of Advertising Production Resources, noted: “As we look across all of our clients, most of them are defined as either a centralised marketing organization, a decentralised marketing organization, or some hybrid of the two. Those that are decentralised push all the marketing and all the content creation onto the local markets and those that are centralized have a headquarters, but they have local marketers to do some activations in the local markets to get more relevant.

“As they are reaching [more] consumers and getting more targeted in their approaches, they're realizing more companies are going to a decentralised or even more importantly, the hybrid version of a marketing organization.”

She noted that as a result of that realisation, more organisations are choosing to build from the ‘ground up’ when it comes to marketing in an area, rather than the older ‘top down’ approach. Despite that approach, she noted that there’s often “no incentive” for the local markets to work together with the central organisation.

The rest of the panel concurred, noting that overall direction for commercial messaging still needs to be managed to ensure consistency of tone. Priestley noted that a lot of Peach’s work on behalf of its clients - especially Hollywood studios - is around “actually reconnecting the local offices, local media agencies back to the central either ‘re-versioning’ company or the central marketing department. Then everybody feels like they're more involved and they can feed back quickly. They can actually see what's being done.”

Kassler noted that it’s a phenomenon that isn’t limited to luxury or high-profile products like cinema. Speaking about the beer industry, he said: “Say Heineken in Holland, in its home market it has one particular image and people think of it in a very loyal way, almost like they're a part of the furniture, whereas in the US it was the first impulse beer so it has a very different provenance there.”

Tech solutions speed up the process

Local knowledge is invaluable when it comes to overcoming issues around cultural sensitivity, knowledge of the semantics of another language, and especially many of the regulatory issues that typically hold up deployment of a campaign. The panel noted that the sheer speed of the marketing industry means that some campaigns need to be turned around on a dime, which would not be possible were it not for the tech that underpins asset management and distribution.

Lemberg said:“I like the phrase [Jillian] used, ‘feeding the machine’, because you don’t just have to feed the machine with the assets themselves, but the data [too]. If you have a stock pile of assets, they’re just sitting there, but when you start layering in analytics and data on top of that, you can start understanding how those assets are performing.”

Consequently, the role of asset management platforms in providing both that insight and the ability to distribute globally near instantly is only going to become more vital. Additionally, the speakers argued that, as a result of an industry-wide trend towards self-service, flexibility and immediacy will become the cornerstones of international ad deployment.

Despite that, the panel concluded that there are inevitably some idiosyncrasies when it comes to dealing with local markets that tech alone cannot overcome.

Priestley noted that his work in Japan taught him that it is a market that moves at its own pace, while Lemberg pointed out that there are various intractable rules and mores even in markets like the US: “even in the US domestic market, there are different elements of speed across not only linear television, but all the different platforms”.

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