ANDERSON & LEMBKE, by the 1990s, could lay claim to being the world's finest business-to-business ad agency. For decades it sent Scandinavian ad men across the globe to launch new branches overseas and bring staid industrial marketing to its knees, using an audacious "Swedish System" laid down by founder Bengt Anderson. Two such men, Steve Trygg and Harald Bugge, were mentors of mine after I joined A&L in 1991. Virtually everything that follows in this article actually comes from them, shamelessly plagiarized from their presentations to prospects and clients.
A lot has changed to make the world a smaller place since then, but there’s still a lot you can learn. So put on your horned helmet, and come yo-ho'ing with me.
THE BIG LESSON:
Find the Highest Common Denominator
A central tenet of the A&L system was the idea that business and industrial products were universal compared to toothpaste or sneakers, almost always purchased for similarly pragmatic reasons rather than some cultural fad or whim unique to a particular country. Combine this with the fact that most businesses over a certain size tend to operate in similar corporate ways, and you’ve got the potential for centrally coordinated campaigns that can work effectively across dozens of countries and languages.
Anderson & Lembke's formula was simple -- at least in theory:
Determine the similarities that characterize your key geographical markets.
Based on these similarities, you develop one campaign to address all of the markets.
Implement that campaign nationally in every market, using local languages and local media.
This is actually not very different from planning marketing for any large group with multiple constituencies or markets. If you can find strong messages that fit everyone, and a well-run brand is certain to have them, then a centrally coordinated approach has lots of advantages.
You can save money. Simply put, you pay for creating and executing ads in one place rather than ten or twenty.
You can be more cost-effective so that most of the budget goes toward media instead of production. That means more ads, bigger ads, better placements.
You can raise the average quality of your advertising worldwide. Every subsidiary -- even the smallest and "poorest" one -- can suddenly afford ads created by the best agency, the best photographers and the best designers that money can buy.
Finally, you can streamline and control your image and market position everywhere. Internationally consistent campaigns will make your company appear as one and the same across the world -- not ten or twenty different companies.
The living proof of this was A&L’s planning expert, Harald Bugge.
Years earlier, Harald had actually been a client while running marcom at Sperry, one of the world’s first computer companies. Frustrated with the balkanized approach of his international subsidiaries, he hired A&L and went from 95 advertising insertions to 380 insertions in a single year -- a 400% increase, using roughly the same budget. Just as important, his pool of available ads expanded from four to 10, giving subsidiaries much greater messaging flexibility for their local markets.
After Harald decided to leave the corporate world, he drew upon his own experiences to identify four real-world challenges that inhibit the efficiency of marketing communications executives:
The strategic challenge: How do you develop a message that's equally relevant to audiences in a dozen countries or more? And how do you locate and characterize those audiences in the first place?
The creative challenge: How do you make sure your ads are as effective everywhere, and that they don't trip over cultural differences and other peculiarities when crossing national borders?
The logistical challenge: How do you physically produce ads in X different languages that you don't speak, and run them in Y different local media you've never heard of?
The political challenge: How do you make everybody agree on a coordinated multinational campaign in the first place? And how do you resolve issues such as who does the work, and who pays for it?
It All Starts with Listening
A very powerful way to ensure that your multinational advertising is strategically and tactically relevant everywhere is to conduct input sessions with your subsidiaries in multiple countries -- in addition to similar sessions held at headquarters. There is no better way to develop an in-depth understanding of the geographical similarities and differences between markets.
The national market input should cover topics such as:
The national business objectives;
The characteristics of major market segments -- size, potential, growth, trends;
The buyer characteristics and typical buying patterns;
The main competitors and their behavior locally;
Your own market share, position and image in the main market segments;
Your various opportunities and obstacles in these segments;
The role of marketing communications in your marketing mix;
Your target audiences and how to reach them.
In addition to these input sessions, external market intelligence may also be needed in the form of local focus group sessions and interviews with customers, trade editors or business analysts. Once all national market input has been consolidated, the conclusions should be acknowledged by headquarters and the local organizations before any advertising is created.
Addressing the Creative Issues
Avoiding the many potential creative pitfalls in multinational advertising is, more than anything, a question of experience on the part of the agency and the creative team. There are, however, a number of rules-of-thumb -- the "don'ts" in international creative execution:
Don't use translators. Use local copywriters. It's more important to capture the core message and the rhythm and tone of an ad, than to translate every single word. The goal is to make each ad appear and feel like a national original in every country where it runs. Think "transcreation" rather than "translation.”
Don't trust the local copy. Even the best local copywriter can misunderstand the subject or parts of it. Also, your local subsidiaries may attempt to "distort" the agreed ad message in order to pursue strictly local purposes. Always make rough back-translations.
Don't use word plays and idiomatic expressions. Very few travel well; most become meaningless in translation.
Don't be funny. More often than not, humor travels poorly.
Don't use models in your visuals. People have different looks in different countries. There is no "average-looking person" that will be perceived as a country national everywhere. Use real people only -- or no people at all.
Don't take conditions for granted. Despite your agency's experience and precautions, there will sometimes be cultural factors and current events locally that neither you nor the agency will be aware of. Always double-check creative executions with agencies or copywriters on location.
Addressing the Logistical Issues
The logistical aspects of centrally coordinated advertising are twofold -- on the one hand those concerning the physical production of ads, and on the other, those relating to the media placements.
Here are some of the players involved in the execution, production and media implementation of a multinational ad campaign:
Your own worldwide and regional headquarters. They made all policy decisions concerning the campaign. They approved communications strategies and tactics. They also approved creative execution, production schedules and budgets, as well as final media plans.
Your national subsidiaries. They co-approved communications strategy and creative execution, as well as media selections and insertion schedules. They also approved local copy and final production files.
The advertising agency. Anderson & Lembke served as the main hub for all execution and production logistics. We produced all ads in all languages, and were responsible for all scheduling and quality control.
Local copywriters for all languages. Creating local copy in cooperation with the national subsidiaries, they could be from A&L affiliates or from local agencies already retained.
The international media agency. They formulated overall and per-country media objectives, defining media strategy and proposing media candidates in all countries. They negotiated rates and discounts, and book actual space. They delivered films to all publications (pre-digital, remember!), and were responsible for insertion control and follow-up.
When it worked, the process followed an 8-step production and media cycle:
Step 1: Presentation of creative proposal. Media agency presents strategy and national media candidates.
Step 2: HQ approves creative treatment and media list.
Step 3: Copywriting and visual execution begins. Media negotiations and compilation of insertion schedules begin.
Step 4: HQ approves copy, visuals and final layout. Subsidiaries approve final media plan.
Step 5: Send approved copy to local copywriters. Media agency begins booking space.
Step 6: Subsidiaries approve local copy and agency begins production.
Step 7: Subsidiaries approve local language versions.
Step 8: Distribution to publications and/or online channels.
Many things could go wrong during this process. To minimize the risks, Anderson & Lembke incorporated a range of back-up and contingency measures in the system. In addition, the following factors greatly enhanced the safe and cost-efficient completion of the campaign logistics. They still stand up as practices when multiple parties are involved in a project.
All parties must receive extensive briefing -- as a minimum in writing and, whenever possible, in person. The briefing includes campaign background, strategies, creative execution, production and media logistics.
Every subsidiary must make available a dedicated main contact person, plus at least one back-up contact person.
A specialized international media agency should be appointed to handle all negotiations, bookings, film distribution and follow-up.
Throughout the process, an absolute respect for schedules and deadlines is a requirement. Once approved, final copy and final insertion schedules should not be changed.
The entire production cycle should, if possible, be simultaneous for all language versions of the same ad (or series of ads).
Addressing the Political Issues
The trickiest and most elusive obstacle facing multinational advertising is political squabbling. Most multinational corporations have complex, multi-layer or matrix organizations, with worldwide and regional headquarters, line-of-business centers and national subsidiaries forming intricate structures. On the various levels, groups and individuals have developed different agendas -- overt as well as hidden -- for marketing communications.
A centralized approach therefore tends to affect -- and even upset -- the subtle "power balance" between central and local levels. In the worst case, headquarters may find subsidiaries strongly resisting the centralized programs -- even to the point of refusing to implement them nationally.
THE BIG CHALLENGE:
Strike a Balance that Serves All
The main issue to be resolved is how much coordination is really appropriate. By analyzing three main aspects of a multinational program -- i.e., who owns the budget; whose ad executions are accepted; and who controls the process -- three principal scenarios emerge: the Firm, Flexible, and Free coordination levels. Each can be characterized as follows:
In order to determine what degree of coordination is most appropriate, it becomes necessary to look at the actual advertising needs, as defined in terms of the purpose, time span and geographical coverage of a particular campaign. Again, three main categories can be identified, which can be characterized as Position, Product and Price advertising:
Achieving a Balanced Model
These two dimensions -- coordination level and advertising need -- can be combined to form a cohesive model for balancing the political tension usually associated with multinational ad programs.
In most multinational organizations, long-term balance between central and local forces is best achieved and sustained along the diagonal line through boxes 1–5–9. This is where both global and national interests are best served, while overall advertising resources are being utilized in the most efficient way. However, even in the "ideal" slots of the model, some basic requirements must be met in order to overcome the main political barriers:
Position/Firm: Make sure the campaign budget is entirely owned by HQ and incremental to any and all existing budgets on the subsidiary level.
Product/Flexible: Make sure the budget incentives offered to the subsidiaries for using the HQ ads are adequate. Also see to it that the selection of available HQ ads is adequate.
Price/Free: Make sure the local ad budgets are adequate. If graphic and other guidelines are offered by HQ for local advertising, make sure they are relevant and realistic in terms of complexity and strictness.
What Can Go Wrong and Why
The political implications of coordinated multinational advertising should not be underestimated. The single most detrimental factor is confrontation between central and local quarters. Confrontation arises in a system where:
... the funding issues are not clear, and the subsidiaries feel they are being "taxed" for advertising they never asked for and can't influence.
... local ad professionals and agencies see their own advertising being forcedly replaced, and their careers ultimately threatened.
... HQ attempts to "police" the subsidiaries by criticizing them when their advertising is below standard or in breach of regulations.
If confrontation cannot be avoided, the system is likely to deterioriate over time. In Anderson & Lembke's experience, the best results are achieved by observing the following cause-and-effect relationship:
Subsidiaries will buy into a centrally coordinated advertising campaign only if they have a viable ownership to the campaign.
A sense of ownership can only come from the subsidiaries' active involvement in the campaign.
This involvement requires physical participation throughout the program development.
Participation starts with the national input sessions, through which the subsidiaries can help build the strategic foundation of the advertising. But they should also be invited to acknowledge the communications strategy and the creative execution, and to supervise local language adaptations and national media selections.
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