Brand Purpose Globalization Social Media

Can the Big Idea survive the fragmentary nature of global marketing?


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

October 22, 2021 | 8 min read

Is there a danger that brands focus too much on the big picture when they go global and don’t take advantage of local factors? As part of The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive, we ask whether they might need to think small to succeed.

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Can the Big Idea survive fragmentary nature of global marketing?

The Big Idea is the bedrock of many marketing strategies and has been discussed at length by marketing professionals, from David Ogilvy down to those of us in the trenches of ideation and asset creation. If you think of a successful brand, chances are that its central Big Idea is what comes to mind first.

However, over the course of the pandemic – and for a few years prior – that bedrock has been eroded. The recognition that inauthenticity can do harm to a brand, and the widespread availability of expertise on the ground in any number of countries, has meant that too often the Big Idea is too broad a strategy to employ as we once did.

Executive creative director of IMA Simon Long believes that the pandemic is opportunity for the marketing industry to reframe how it thinks about its central marketing messages: “Covid-19 could see off the Big Idea. There isn’t just one big moment any more. A new era needs a new idea… one that adapts to meet consumers where they are and how to actually affect them.

“‘Long ideas start to shape marketing post Covid-19. Seeing the world as consumers do, they don’t just last – they live. Designed to successfully balance short-term demands with long-term strategies.”

It’s an implicit recognition that the Big Idea was best suited to an environment where advertisers could reach audiences at scale, but not necessarily regularly or in the best environments. The ability of technology to track and personalize ads means that brands are much surer of their interactions with potential consumers, allowing them to be extremely granular with the messages they use.

Social mobility

More than the ability to target, the Big Idea now requires marketers to communicate their message across any number of platforms. What might once have been easy to get across in a 30-second TV spot cannot be so easily communicated in a single Instagram post.

Trak Ellis-Hill is UK creative managing partner at Momentum Worldwide. She says: “Perhaps the practice of leading with a Big Idea is becoming more challenging within the context of an international landscape, and with channels becoming more fragmented by the ever-expanding nature of digital.

“Can you stand out without a Big Idea? Sure. Fleetingly – a cool meme, a funny TikTok, a clever stunt. But not for any real measure of time. Playing the long game is where the long-term relationship lives. It’s as vital as ever to build your Big Idea out of a human truth, one that reaches across borders. The brightest campaigns have truth at their core and for this reason transcend cultural nuance and geographical boundaries, allowing people to see themselves reflected.”

She cites Persil’s ’Dirt is Good’, P&G’s ’Salute to Mums’, and Guinness’s ’Good Things Come To Those Who Wait’ as examples of messages that communicate ideas across language barriers. She notes that even as the number of communications channels increases, it is up to the brand itself to decide which message is floated down each. “As brands bend to changing behaviors and emerging trends, adapting their message for local audiences, it’s finding a universal truth and taking a leap of faith that will inspire connection over time and protect a brand’s relationship with its audience – wherever they are.”

A little local knowledge goes a long way

To do so, however, requires that each brand or agency has local news to be deployed in service of translating that Big Idea to a wide range of audiences. Many luxury and consumer brands are looking longingly at the third of the global population that exists in Asia, for instance – but some do not have the expertise in using or even a presence on some of the most well-used communications tools.

WeChat, for instance, has over 1 billion users and is specifically tailored to how Chinese consumers have typically used the internet. It has tools and options that are rooted in traditions that many marketers outside Asia have no experience with. Consequently attempts to use tools like WeChat for brand communications are fraught with danger.

Florencia Lujani, strategy director of Media Bounty, explains: “The Big Idea is still incredibly relevant in a globalized market, but the local aspect of brands can’t be erased. Everything about our modern lifestyle helps disseminate culture at a global level and while we are constantly discovering elements from different cultures, we still rely on local – rather than global – meanings for interpretation, use and display of products and brands. The global is constructed locally just as much as the local is constructed globally.

“While standardization across markets is tempting, it’s hardly effective: needs can be universal, but values differ from culture to culture. A Big Idea can be aligned to a concept or feeling, but for it to be effective and relevant to local consumers, the execution should incorporate cultural nuances. This is why the main concern for marketers working with global brands shouldn’t be about the efficiency of standardization but about the effectiveness of cultural segmentation.”

When it comes to the central brand message, advertisers need to be aware that the Big Idea is likely to land very differently due to cultural mores and expectations. While it is vital that brands still communicate their core values and products to audiences, they must be filtered through layers of local expertise in order to land effectively.

The Big Idea is no less relevant than it has been in the past. Marketers shouldn’t be thinking small – they should be considering how the Big Idea can be broken up to fit best among their international strategy, not discarded entirely.

For more on how technology and trends are bringing the world together, check out The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive.

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