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Culture Shock

The Webster's Dictionary defines advertising as "the attracting of public attention to a product or service." It defines an advertisement as "a notice or message intended to make the advantages and desirable qualities of a product or service known to the public." And it defines the verb to advertise as "to make known the desirability of in order to sell."

In its definition of advertising, the Webster's Dictionary refers to products or services. It does not refer to brands.

The Webster's Dictionary defines a brand as "a mark made by burning with a hot iron, or by other means, to indicate quality or manufacture." It defines the verb to brand as "to burn or impress a mark upon with a hot iron, to distinguish by a similar mark."

In its definition of brands, the Webster's Dictionary refers to quality and distinction. It does not refer to authority, personality or values.

Brand authority comes from what a brand does best. Brand personality comes from how it acts and, consequently, how it is perceived. Brand values are those qualities, traits, characteristics for which it stands.

Brands simplify the lives of consumers. Some do it better than others. They are called leading brands.

Others stand out by offering a point of difference. They are called challenger brands.

All brands need to maintain a dialogue with consumers. Advertising is the hot iron of consumer brands.

Effective advertising leverages a brand's authority; is faithful to a brand's values. It makes a brand constantly relevant to consumers.

Relevance to consumers should be the first and foremost criterion in deciding whether a brand will act as a local brand, a regional brand or a global brand.

From the start, Coca-Cola preserved in the notion that it possessed vast global potential, global relevance. It spoke of one sound, one sight, one sell, before any other brand known to man.

In most of the world, Coca-Cola is consumed on similar occasions, for similar reasons, by similar consumers. It is the world's leading cola, challenged only by Pepsi.

Despite numerous attempts (with only modest success) no beer brand has yet managed to establish itself as the world's leading beer. A beer brand's potential for global relevance appears to be considerably limited.

Aren't beers consumed on similar occasions, for similar reasons, by similar consumers-in most of the world?

To Brazilians, beer is not an alcoholic beverage-it's a soft drink. Germans believe their beer must be locally brewed to be good. The English have only just recently adopted lagers. Americans see it as a boy-meets-girl drink. And Australians see it strictly as a man's drink.

Beer is still different, culture to culture. Coca-Cola is its own culture.

When Ted Levitt wrote about global markets, he did not emphasize cultures.

Polarizing the debate between the extremes-local or global-neglects all that happens in between, the nuances of culture that make brands more or less universally appealing.

Research and development, manufacturing, pricing, marketing, even packaging, can be made to be global. Advertising-whether a brand is local, regional or global-will have to be culturally relevant in order to work.

There are many success stories in global marketing. The relatively few successes in global advertising are primarily multicultural achievements.

In assessing the multicultural potential of a brand (and a brand's advertising), it pays to examine and understand:

  • The culture of the category
  • The culture of the brand itself
  • The target culture(s)

(It never hurt anybody to also know the corporate culture involved.)

Examining and understanding the culture of the category provides a competitive road map within which to travel-where to go, at what speed, main roads, shortcuts, etc.

Examining and understanding the culture of the brand itself helps determine:

  • how much to draw from its heritage, its equity (the past)
  • how to make it constantly relevant to today's consumers (the present)
  • how to extend and enhance it for continued growth (the future)

Examining and understanding the target culture(s) will determine:

  • how viable a multicultural approach might be
  • what exceptions need to be dealt with

As universal as a brand (and its advertising) might be, there will always be obstacles to overcome:

  • legal
  • ethnic
  • cultural
  • corporate

The most successful multicultural advertising approaches in existence seem to have three qualities in common. They:

  • Recognize the culture of the category
  • Reflect the culture of the brand
  • Respect the culture(s) they are trying to reach

Successful multicultural advertisers do not necessarily run the same execution in every market. They convey the same point of view about their brands.

Successful multicultural advertisers do not choose the multicultural approach to save production money. They do so in order to impart a cohesive, consistent, controlled image of their brands.

The quality of the advertising itself-both in concept and execution-is key. Unless the multicultural campaign is superior to what is achievable locally, it shouldn't be exercised.

At our agency, we believe in solutions, not formulas. Whether a brand is to succeed locally, regionally or globally, our solution(s) will always strive to be culturally sound.

While other agencies have discovered global advertising in the last decade, McCann-Erickson has been practicing it for over 60 years. We own and control the vast majority of our agencies. We design, execute and display advertising that works globally, regionally or locally. We know how to replicate success from country A to country B and beyond.

At our agency, global means intimacy with many cultures, not mere presence in the many countries.

We choose to call what we do multicultural advertising because Brands do not communicate to places, Brands communicate with people.

At our agency, we do not believe in overnight wonders. We believe in campaigns that succeed over time and over borders. Campaigns that are made up of substance (strategy), brilliance (execution) and endurance (delivery).

The very words "Truth Well Told," to be found next to our name in 82 countries throughout the world, speak of our dedication to understanding precisely what to say about a Brand or Product; how to say it in a compelling manner; above all, whom to say it to.

We avoid culture shock by concentrating not only on what we say but on what people understand.


Marcio Moreira, McCann-Erickson Worldwide

Copyright © 1999 McCann-Erickson Worldwide. All rights reserved.