If your company has decided to market its products abroad, you may be in for a nasty surprise. So says Simon Anholt, author of
Another One Bites the Grass.
An Englishman who lives in London, Anholt has worked for advertising agencies from New York to Tokyo on accounts ranging from Pepsi to General Motors.
He founded World Writers, an agency designed to help companies with international advertising strategy, in 1989 in London. Anholt argues that creative teams consistently sabotage their efforts by saying the wrong things in the right language, neglecting to research their product name in the relevant marketplace and failing to understand the needs and feelings of the culture they're trying to reach.
The fact remains, he writes, that many international advertising campaigns are 'DOA' - dead on arrival.
Following are edited excerpts from the book:
Not many people seem to realize it, but the advertising and marketing services industry is facing - or may be in the middle of - its biggest crisis.
The problem is globalization. More companies are making the decision to market their products abroad, and the advertising industry is failing to keep pace with that growing demand. It's fascinating to observe how the advertising industry persistently fails to recognize this - the growing demand for international competence - as the most significant challenge to its business.
It seems clear to me the marketing and advertising industries' persistent failure to see culture as their biggest challenge - or even a failure to acknowledge cultural differences exist - is the main reason why, historically, there have been so many more failures than successes in international marketing programs, and why international advertising campaigns are so often disappointing.
Interestingly, the two countries that generate most of the creative work for most of the world's international campaigns, the UK and America, are probably the two countries where consumers most actively enjoy advertising.
A recent European survey showed more than 75 percent of British people find advertising entertaining and more than 80 percent think it is useful to consumers.
By comparison, only 30 percent of Germans think advertising has a positive effect, and more than 80 percent think it is boring. It does raise a real dilemma about the difficulty of using American or British creativity as the basis for global campaigns.
There seems to be something fundamentally flawed in the whole notion of a lead agency. How can a bunch of UK or American creatives possibly claim to be able to create messages that would mean anything relevant, interesting or comprehensible to people in countries where they couldn't order a beer?
Most of us still lazily subscribe to that hierarchical, top-down view of global marketing. We're constantly trying to sell American pie to the Germans, by pouring German sauce over it just before we serve it up. Of course, that's a disgusting idea, and no German in their right mind would eat it.
What happens on an international campaign is, only one agency - the so-called lead agency - gets to do all the exciting strategic, creative and production stuff. The network seems purposely built to ensure as many people as possible treat every part of the process with as much hatred and irritation as possible. Then they ask the people around the network to check it out for use in their markets, as of course they must. And those people, naturally somewhat piqued at not being invited to contribute to the creative process, are more inclined to propose massive, utterly damning objections than helpful minor modifications. So they immediately set about thinking of all the reasons why it's not good for their country.
In consequence, most of the international advertising campaigns in the world are desperately dull, boring, bland and soulless because it's the stuff that nobody minds.
It is the success of the encounter between the culture of the brand and the culture of the overseas consumer that, perhaps more than any other factor, determines whether the brand will prosper abroad.
Since the majority of the top global brands are American-owned, this is the culture, more than any other, that has to learn how to adapt to others.
Still, when planning marketing offenses in Europe, the majority of American companies still choose the UK as their lead country for international campaigns. Because UK culture shares many of the same masculine characteristics as US culture, using the UK as a sounding board when promoting American brands in most other countries in the world is likely to deepen and harden - rather than moderate or correct - a cultural disconnect.
To view consumers worldwide as gradually moving toward the universal adoption of American or European values is a myth. If anything, there is a tendency for differences to become more marked over time.