When you’re putting together an international marketing campaign, it’s tempting to focus on what works in the market you’re in, and miss the detail of how it’ll work locally. Some of the biggest brands make the mistake of only doing a cursory check of the local meaning of their advertising strapline, creative and even brand name. Puma got into trouble in the UAE when it put the UAE flag on limited edition trainers. The gesture was well-meaning, but culturally it failed spectacularly – putting the flag on footwear is a huge insult in the region. The slogan for Coors Beer (‘Turn it loose’) failed to impress in Spain, where the translation had a hidden slang meaning: turned out Coors was implying the beer would give you diarrhoea.
A literal translation isn’t enough in an international campaign. To resonate in local markets, it should use cultural references, designs and language with local appeal. It’s all very well keeping brand consistency, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of local relevance.
The only way to do this effectively is to use local knowledge. Only native speakers can tell you whether what seems to be an innocent word in Spanish has a hidden meaning in Cuba. Or whether the Brazilian footballer you’re using in your ad creative has any appeal in China. A truly global brand campaign isn’t one that uses the same images and strapline, it’s one that elicits the same response from consumers the world over.
You can learn a lot about cultural differences between countries by looking at local social media use. We’ve been researching and producing an International Guide to Social Media over the past few months, which has led us down some really interesting paths. In China, where Facebook and Twitter are both blocked in favour of local networks Qzone (597 million users) and RenRen (140 million users), the most popular brands are aspirational global brands: Coca Cola and Samsung. In India, however, where Facebook is the biggest network, the most popular brands are home-grown (though both huge, of course): Tata Docomo and Kingfisher. In Brazil, celebrities are much more popular on social channels than brands: the footballer Kaká has more than 17 million followers on Facebook. In Russia, one of the most popular YouTube channels focuses on guns and explosives.
Globalisation might have taken over, we might all use (with some notable exceptions) the same social networks, we might all recognise iconic global brand images. But consumers haven’t morphed into a single entity the world over. We have different references, habits, characteristics and ways of communicating. So if you’re creating an international campaign with local appeal, nothing will replace local insight and cultural understanding.