EDINBURGH, Scotland - The trend toward pan-European automotive marketing is a direct reflection of business attitudes in general, according to advertising newcomer the Leith Agency.
The Leith Agency pitched successfully against four other agencies for last year's campaign to promote the launch of Honda's HR-V sport-utility. The Leith Agency is now heading a four-agency consortium bidding for Honda's southern European advertising account covering France, Italy and Spain.
'You can identify both country-specific and pan-European approaches - but my feeling is that things are inching toward a more pan-European angle,' said account executive Phil Adams at Leith, which is based on Scotland's east coast.
'If there is a trend toward a more pan-European approach, then it is a business trend first and foremost. There is a general trend in business toward consolidation and internationalism. The efficiency arguments for a pan-European approach look compelling in this environment.'
Chris Brown, advertising manager at Honda Motor Europe, takes matters a stage further.
'I think we should take a more general business view,' he said. 'To ensure shareholder value, cutting costs is now a part of any commercial manager's brief - and advertising cannot be excluded from this.'
Brown said the debate eventually must move away from pan-European advertising into global advertising.
'It is business sense to protect media budgets,' he said, 'so we must innovate when it comes to production. One such approach is international advertising.
'Management consultants recommend 'shared services' to reduce costs, and central advertising production is just one of them,' said Brown. 'The real issue is how you communicate to 22 countries in 19 different languages. Currently there are very few agencies that offer the creative abilities and the services to achieve this.'
But the Leith Agency's HR-V campaign met that communications challenge perfectly.
Honda wanted a fresh marketing approach to promote its new sport-utility. The TV and print advertising campaign, which ran in 22 European countries, took Honda into a new, younger market segment.
The Leith Agency came up with the tagline 'Joy Machine' for the HR-V. The phrase reached right into the Honda psyche and became a company slogan.
The Leith Agency then devised a series of dialogue-free TV advertisements that relied on visual humor and sound effects alone.
'We didn't want to get into voiceovers or lip-synchronizations for different countries,' said a Honda spokesman. 'Visual humor, music and sound effects are universal. A sense of fun and enjoyment knows no linguistic or cultural boundaries.'
Phil Adams hinted at the obstacles his agency overcame to fulfill the Honda brief.
'The chief executive's enthusiasm for pan-European efficiencies might not - and in fact probably won't - be shared by the marketing people in each country,' said Adams. 'I doubt that campaigns aimed at individual countries will become a thing of the past, but I suspect they will get rarer.'
Adams said that one of the most important factors behind a successful pan-European advertising campaign is 'a strong and simple strategy. That's easiest to achieve when the product is being targeted at similar people who will buy a product for similar reasons - regardless of where they live.'
But Adams also believes there are 'varying degrees of pan-European-ness. The truly pan-European approach - whereby exactly the same advertising runs in each country with no local adaptation whatsoever - is relatively rare,' he said.
Pan-European concepts are more common. These share visuals - the same film, for instance - but are adapted locally with voiceovers, headlines, body copy and so forth.
'The main practical advantage of a pan-European approach is cost,' said Adams.
A single film costs less than a series of individual films for each country. The client will also save on agency fees if only one lead agency is developing strategy and creative concepts. This lead agency may also handle all the local adaptations, but it is more common for satellite offices in each country to do this work. If everything can be centralized in a truly pan-European approach, then the savings will be significant.
'The big debate is whether there is a strategic advantage - as well as a practical one - to a pan-European approach,' said Adams.
The most common accusation aimed at pan-European advertising is that it sinks to a lowest common denominator level in order to satisfy internal advertiser politics and avoid cultural pitfalls.
'Most pan-European advertising is dreadfully bland,' said Adams. 'There is no doubt that there are advantages in being able to use cultural idiosyncrasies and colloquial language. That makes it easier to write involving advertising.'
Adams does not see any harm in identifying nationality.
'People accept that 'stories' have to take place somewhere,' he said. 'As long as the location, casting and props are relevant, there shouldn't be a problem.
'Obviously it is a different matter if the storyline itself suggests a bias toward one particular country. Not identifying nationality is more likely to be the result of internal advertising politics than a reflection of consumer attitudes.'
One of the most popular automotive TV advertising campaigns in recent years was for the Renault Clio, created by London-based agency Publicis. The TV ads featured two French characters - father 'Papa' and his daughter 'Nicole'. The campaign never ran in France.
'I can understand why,' said Adams. 'France wasn't just the setting; Frenchness was one of the key messages. Although the image of a country might export well, it is seldom attractive to natives of that country.'