Pan-regional marketing was the main topic at this year's Marketing Forum onboard the Aurora. But, despite rubbing shoulders with the 100 European delegates from 18 countries aboard for the European Forum, not everyone got the international perspective they were seeking.
After 11 years with a purely UK focus, the Marketing Forum last year introduced an international perspective by running the European Forum concurrently. The idea was to allow clients to learn from the experiences of their counterparts in different markets. This year, more than 100 client-side marketers from countries including France, Poland and the Czech Republic attended.
Danielle Crook, the global marketing and communications executive for Vodafone, was among those who benefited from the move. "I've been able to have some great discussions with people from all over the world who face, or have faced, similar challenges, so it has been extremely beneficial," she says.
Others were less impressed. Danny Garvey, the vice-president of marketing, global services for BT, comments: "I was disappointed, in that meetings with Europeans were coincidental and there wasn't as much crossover as I would have liked."
Despite the two forums taking place in separate groups, the main topic on the agenda of both was the problem of global versus local marketing.
This perennial subject still vexes the marketing community - to the frustration of some. "This was talked about at last year's event and continues to be this urban myth that everybody wants to discuss," Sven Olsen, the exe-cutive vice-president of FCB Europe, says.
But if the forum was covering well-trodden ground, it was with good reason, Olsen reckons - the recession. "All companies have to cut their costs and they have done this through standardising their products and then their advertising. However, many of them have now got to the point where they have pushed the global approach as far as it can go and it doesn't pay off any more. That's why the discussion is back and local is being talked about again," he says.
The speakers at the forum found plenty of scope for discussion within the main theme.
In the conference given by his company, Fons Trompenaars, the founder and director of the management consultancy Trompenaars Hampden-Turner, said there is a fine line to walk between global and local strategies.
"Too heavy a reliance on global leads to a 'be like us' attitude, while lots of different ads results in a heavy local approach," he said.
In the Global Versus Local presentation, Christian Kemp-Griffin, the Lacoste international marketing director, said the debate was a phoney one and that campaigns and strategies should combine elements of both: "It shouldn't be one versus the other. It's critical for brands that their marketing is global and local."
However, this is where problems can begin, Trompenaars claimed. In his talk, he listed a series of areas in which different countries have different cultures, demonstrating how difficult it is to create a standardised and global communication strategy.
For example, he compared the individualism of a culture such as the UK with the communitarianism of China or Japan. According to Trompenaars: "Advertising in the UK often appeals to the self-reliant aspect of Britons," while Chinese advertising is most frequently set in a "family or family- like collective".
He identified seven areas in which cultures differ between countries.
These included: how emotional people are; how reliant they are on rules and how people relate to each other within them. This makes a one-size-fits-all strategy unlikely to work across every market, he argued.
The problem with this, however, according to Kemp-Griffin, is that there needs to be some kind of consistency across markets.
"The essence of a brand must be globally driven because consumers travel. If they don't see the same image all over the world then the brand will be diluted," he said.
He explained that Lacoste's strategy has been to create a central idea and framework for the brand and then operate this locally.
In the same presentation, Garvey used the example of BT's recent pan-European campaign as another example of this strategy. "There was a core tool box and the local markets chose which tools to use and how to bring the campaign to life. This gave consistency but richness at a local level," he said.
However, some delegates argued that there are certain marketing sectors in which the global strategy will outweigh the local.
In areas such as computing and technology, for example, as one delegate said, local differentiation is not so essential and it could be possible to create one campaign to roll out in multiple markets.
But, speaking at the Global Versus Local presentation, Paul Kaye, the outgoing European marketing director of Masterfoods, disagreed. "You may develop a great campaign from your central team but in some markets it still won't work and you mustn't be autocratic about it," he argued.
Overall, the forum probably helped reinforce the "think local, act global" principle, but the debate certainly isn't closed. Nor will doubts over whether more discussion can provide more answers prevent the subject arising at next year's event.