The Local Versus Global Marketing Debate

Paul DervanMay 27, 20204 min

All generalizations are false. Including this one. Local campaigns always beat global campaigns. Always. Except when they don’t. If there is ever a topic that gets heated, it is the local versus global marketing debate. People get angry.

“Our market is different. Yes, France/Germany/England/Canada/Australia is different.” I’ve been told on numerous occasions by my local marketing colleagues that all of these countries are different. I’m guilty too, I argued that Ireland was different when I was in a local role.

Once I even fought for an Irish actor to do the voiceover for a TV campaign that we were launching in the US. That was particularly wasteful of everybody’s time – the ad got made but the campaign was cancelled before anybody saw it.

In truth, all countries are different. Although that doesn’t resolve much. The global team is accused of not understanding local nuances. And the folks in headquarters feel that the local team is exaggerating how different their market is, that the differences are trivial and not worth the cost, effort or time.

Paranoia kicks in. We assume it is because each group wants to ‘own’ the work. To make decisions. To take the glory. Territorial stuff. Sometimes that is the case. But I believe that most people genuinely believe in what they are fighting for. And make no mistake – it is a fight.

Global And Local: The Snickers Example

So does local always beat global? Well, no. Few things in marketing are that absolute. When creating advertising for many markets, you do run the risk that the work gets diluted. It ends up acceptable everywhere, but not exceptional anywhere.

And I do believe that campaigns which lean into local cultural issues can outperform global campaigns designed for many markets. That said, most of the local advertising I’ve seen does not lean too deeply into culture. So perhaps it depends on your ambitions.

The Snickers brand has been highly effective with both approaches. ‘You’re not yourself when you’re hungry’ was initially a global idea, executed locally in many markets, often using local celebrities in their mass marketing TV advertising.

It worked well in most markets.

Then, several years later, when facing new challenges, the marketing team evolved this concept. They kept their big idea, but this time invested in making one single, global TV ad to be used across all markets. This was the TV ad featuring Rowan Atkinson as his Mr Bean character in a Crouching Tiger-esque setting. This global ad beat the previous approach of using local ads in each market. Global beat local. In addition, making just one TV ad, instead of multiple local ones, saved them about $14m in production efficiencies.

Global Versus Local: The Better Option

What to do? It is genuinely tricky. Some differences seem important, but are not; others seem trivial, but are not. It took me years to appreciate the perhaps obvious differences between advertising in the US and the UK. American audiences are used to, and expect, a harder sell. Audiences in the UK, and perhaps Ireland, are more accustomed to playful, subtle advertising.

This is not a rule, but I believe there is some truth here. And there are differences between the individualist western cultures and the more collectivistic ones, like China, India and Latin America.

I asked Peter Field if he had any views based on his experience. He told me a sensible approach is to try and make the global strategy work first. We should look to tweak or change the global campaign only when we know for a fact that there is something about the local market that is hindering it.

While Peter thought that the cultural issue was often overplayed, he believed one reason why brands might choose a local strategy is if the competitive challenge is very different in one market or region. If you’re a market leader, your approach might need to be different than if you are unknown.

As is often the case in marketing, there is no one approach that is always the better option. As Mark Twain said, “All generalizations are false, including this one.” It is too easy to find cultural and market differences. We will always find them if we want to. A starting point for teams might be to acknowledge this upfront, and then start working on the more difficult task of finding similarities.

The first task on global versus local decisions is to acknowledge that there are differences but look for similarities.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Paul Dervan. Excerpted from his book Run With Foxes (Harriman House)

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