Glocalisation may be an ugly word, but it could lead to handsome profits for agencies and their clients

Hamish Pringle is strategic advisor at 23red, former IPA director general, and has had five successful business books published. With an agency career spanning 26 years, he’s worked on more than 50 brands.

The third iteration of Advertising Week Europe in March 2015 was bigger, better, and more international than ever. In this context the title for Google Hangout’s panel discussion was an appropriate, if ugly word: ‘glocalisation’. But could it represent a handsome profit opportunity?

In addressing the topic, the panel rehearsed the familiar issues surrounding the glocalisation of ideas – the drive from procurement, the problem of “not invented here”, the difficulty of achieving true cultural meaning, the challenge of language, and the risk of dumbing down to the lowest common denominator.

Often the successful border-crossing campaigns rely more on imagery and music than wordplay. This is because the top three most spoken languages still only represent very modest proportions of the global population: Mandarin 14 per cent, Spanish 6 per cent and English 5 per cent. English does have an advantage as for many people it’s their second tongue and taken with native speakers our language is spoken to a degree by about 14 per cent of the world. But that still means 86 per cent don’t share a common tongue.

Once, the American Dream was the driver of brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and American Express, amongst many others, but now they have to work much harder to assimilate local culture in order to be relevant.

It will be interesting to see if China and India acquire the same aspirational power or does the new transparency, facilitated by social media and whistle-blowers, make it impossible to gloss over the political, human rights, and gender issues which beset these huge markets? It’s notable that many of the big brands emanating from Asia are based primarily on their rational and functional attributes, rather than their emotional or psychological ones, let alone ethical and spiritual values.

It is in this complex context that the ‘pool out’ has become the most viable way in which to ‘glocalise’. A great idea from one market is iterated out to many others, suitably adapted to make the best fit with the local market whilst retaining the essence of the concept. Another ugly word with handsome rewards is ‘transcreation’. This means going far beyond a literal translation of the copy or script to re-interpret the concept in local cultural terms.

Unilever's Dove campaign is one of the most celebrated examples with the idea originating in Ogilvy Düsseldorf, realised in London, and capitalised upon in many countries, and especially Brazil and Canada. It seems that glocalisation works best when the core of the idea is a universal theme which human beings can relate to, whether it be Dove’s real beauty, L’Oréal’s celebrities, or Evian’s babies.

Happily for us, the UK is well-placed in the glocalisation stakes with many of the big marketing companies, and their agencies, choosing to hub their EMEA and sometimes their global operations out of London, sitting as it does on the Greenwich Meridian and open for East-West business at teatime daily.

IMD, a leading UK-based global distribution company, exports nineteen times as many TV commercials to Germany than they import from that major market. Glocalisation is big business and the UK is a major player.

Many key UK-based companies have helped put the UK on the map as an important production hub for Europe and increasingly beyond. This has been taking place within the advertising industry for some time, with many in-house studios being wrested away and centralised to establish highly cost-effective 24/7/365 production houses.

But unsurprisingly the separation of the initial creation from the subsequent production and distribution was opposed vigorously by the full-service agencies. Agencies had lost their media planning and buying departments to centralised media dependents and independents and hated losing their production studios too. So progress was steady but slow until the recession.

As Alex Abrams of IMD recalls:

“Pre 2008 it was tough to get a client to rip up the rule book of how ads were made. The risks were too high. Post 2008 they came rushing to the doors of Tag and Hogarth – desperate to achieve the promised savings of 30-40 per cent based on their existing network agency implementation structure. It was the recession that more than anything that allowed this industry to flourish – it removed the real barrier of complacency.”

The momentum provided by the recession has clearly helped consolidate the UK’s position of strength. There are other London-based independents such as IPC, Freedman International, Loveurope, and Splash. These companies realise the ideas of an individual agency or micro-network and provide clients with a viable alternative to the major groups. One big idea from a small agency can go global easily.

The big multinational agency groups have taken up the gauntlet thrown down by procurement and the outsourcers – if you can’t beat them join them. Having established a secure position, they all have to face the new challenge presented by global media like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram which clients can access directly.

Those who will survive are those who can do something the client can’t (the raison d’etre of any outsourced service), and one skill is multi-lingual transcreation. This plays to London’s strengths where, according to recent research, over 100 different languages are spoken.

However it’s questionable whether Adland’s agencies are making the most of the talent pool it lives amongst. The IPA census of 2014 reports that just 13 per cent of all its members’ employees in the UK were non-white, compared to 14 per cent in the population at large. However, the black, Asian, and minority ethnic population in London is well over 50 per cent.

The Advertising Association report ‘The Whole Picture’ shows this isn’t a simple issue to address, but if London wishes to retain and build its position as the hub for EMEA, then its agencies must capitalise on its human resources, not just its technological ones.

Glocalisation may be an ugly word but it can lead to a handsome profit for the UK, where entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and technological innovation thrive under a Government increasingly attuned to the value of the creative industries.

Hamish Pringle is a strategic advisor to 23red. Follow him on Twitter.

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