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Learn How to Globalize Your Creative Concepts

Earlier in my career when I was managing the creative development of global campaigns, my geographical counterparts often pointed out that creative needs to be customized or localized to reflect cultural differences. Today, as a global marketing manager, I wonder if it’s truly possible to create a global creative concept and apply it to all regions around the world.

For a long time I assumed that as long as the creative concept was headline-driven or provided simple background information without including details on specific figureheads, it would be easy to scale to other regions. I now realize that this is only partially true. There are a lot of factors influencing the development of a creative concept, but the Holy Grail (or the determining factor) of globalizing a creative concept starts with your company’s products. Let me illustrate with three different examples.

The centralized model

What it is: Same products worldwide; one global creative concept (with or very minimal regional localization).

Example: The best way to illustrate this model is to look at Apple. Apple’s Macintosh computers, iPods, iPhones, and iPads are sold worldwide without any differences in how the products appear.

How to execute: Apple’s creative concept is derived from how its technology makes life better; not from information on the technology itself. In addition, Apple tends to put its products front-and-center and focuses on illustrating how the products make users’ lives better and more fun. As long as  the company illustrates how those product benefits can be universally understood, the overall creative concept should easily scale globally.

The creative localization is minimal, more focuses on translation. As you will likely recall, with most of Apple’s TV and print ads (including the latest TV commercial for the iPhone 4S), you can easily visualize how the same concepts would work in Bangkok, Beijing, Munich, or Moscow (with the exception of the “I am a Mac/I am a PC” campaign, which uses U.S.-centric humor that would need to be customized to work in other regions).

How to structure your organization: This centralized model requires a strong headquarters to lead and own the development of creative concepts and assets for regions. For this, a global agency will most likely be required. Headcount is heavy in headquarters and light in geos as the regions tend to focus on marketing executions.

iPhone 4 ad
iPod ad

The hybrid model

What it is: Same products worldwide; one global creative concept or framework with regional localization.

Example: A lot of global companies’ creative developments fall into this category; I’ll use my company, Intel, as an example. The theme for our second-generation Intel Core processor is “Visibly Smart Performance for Your Visual Life,” meaning that as people define who they are through visual experiences a second-generation Intel Core processor is the perfect engine for expressing and sharing these visual lives.

How to execute: With that creative foundation in mind, we came up with a core set of creative concepts and then localized and translated them for each market region. We used a simple, generic background and headline-driven creative for every region to use (see below). We also understood there was a need to illustrate our definition of stunning visuals and intelligent performance.

How to structure your organization: As in the centralized model, Intel’s headquarters leads the initial creative development, then it works with different regions to localize it. Close collaboration is essential. To make this effective, the creative agency needs to define the concepts with “global” and “local” in mind. Since geo expertise and feedback is required to reflect cultural uniqueness in localizing the main creative concept, the headcount mix between the headquarters and geographies is about 50/50.

The local model

What it is: Localized products; a high-level creative framework with extensive localization.

Example: In China, KFC customers can purchase a bowl of congee; a rice porridge that can feature pork, pickles, mushrooms and egg; as well as buy a bucket of its famous Classic fried chicken. KFC China stays true to its “core” products — Classic and Crispy Chicken — yet completely customizes the menu to fit the local needs.

How to execute: Here is a great article from Bloomberg that describes KFC’s success in China.  What the headquarters can do is provide a high-level creative framework. As long as the regional office adheres to the framework, it has a wide range of freedom to develop the creative that will work for its own region. We see more consumer products such as detergents, drinks, and skin-care following this model.

How to structure your organization: Given that the products are localized, headquarters’ role is to enable the regional creative development without much intervention. With this model, regional owns the marketing creative development and execution. The headcount is regional heavy.

Order KFC meals on-line on
KFC Menu in China

 Overall, it’s possible to globalize your creative development, but how you accomplish this all depends on your products. If they are fairly standardized across all regions, a corporate-led effort is a viable route. But if your products or your product marketing strategies vary by region, a corporate-enabled effort will certainly be appreciated by your geos. You also need to take into account your company’s culture, organization structure, budget, resource allocation, and management preference.It’s time to plan for 2012. Which globalization model best fits your products or services? I’d love to see your ideas and feedback in the comments below.