Global Advertising: When the world is your market

The chief marketers of five of the world's global brands discuss the intricacies of maintaining lead position.

ANDREA RAGNETTI - chief marketing officer, Philips

- What is the biggest challenge facing your brand today?

Repositioning Philips around the idea of simplicity. When people think of Philips they tend to think of flat-screen TVs and home cinemas, but we're also about health and lifestyle (we make everything from light-bulbs to life-support machines). We need to make the world aware of the other industries we're in.

- Global brands are said to be more powerful than politicians. Do you agree? And if so, do they have a responsibility to improve society?

No, they're not. Brands have no influence whatsoever on real political choices. That said, brands can have a role to play in sustainable development. There is a lot of good use we can put to our technology.

- Advertising gets a bad reputation: how does it need to change to keep in touch with consumers?

The ad industry has to realise that consumers have different attitudes when it comes to advertising. Some seek it out because it's entertaining or useful (some actually sit and wait for the ad breaks); if you can establish a dialogue with these people, then they will follow you. But if you try to cheat your consumers, they will catch you out straightaway.

- What are the hallmarks of a strong global brand?

Good product. People thought for a while that you could have a great brand without it, but that's just not the case. I still see too many brands that are based on thin air. You need honest relationships with consumers and that calls for one-on-one marketing. I'm a traditionalist in that sense.

- Which global brand (other than your own) do you most admire?

BMW. OK, so compared with Philips, marketing BMW is relatively easy - it's about one industry, one product. But BMW has been very disciplined and resisted demands to change. Walk into any BMW dealer in the world and you'll have the same experience. The marketing world is made of people who use brands to establish themselves, rather than the other way around. It must be very difficult for BMW's marketing team to say no to those who want to change its brand ... but they haven't backed down yet.

- What is the most important quality you look for in an advertising agency?

Creativity first, a global network second - something all agencies struggle with. Sure, smaller agencies are said to be more creative, but a client's needs depend on the marketing maturity of their company. Consistency and discipline are essential in building a brand and a global network is the best way to achieve both.

- What is your favourite ad campaign of all time and why?

Volkswagen Golf, but, more recently, it has to be Adidas' "impossible is nothing" work. It has found a very simple, targeted way of fighting Nike. There's incredible craft in the copywriting and it's very emotional. We're trying to do this at Philips - get people to want to watch our ads again and again.

MICHAEL RENZ - global marketing director, Audi

- What is the biggest challenge facing your brand today?

To become a truly global brand and have one voice around the world. We are strong in Europe, but still have work to do in Asia and the US.

- Global brands are said to be more powerful than politicians. Do you agree? And if so, do they have a responsibility to improve society?

Absolutely. Politicians can have a positive effect for a fixed period of time until they leave office, but brands have to keep providing for consumers in the long term. As for improving society, we have the alternatives to petrol engines in research and we're evaluating which will work best, and our cars use recycled materials.

- Advertising gets a bad reputation: how does it need to change to keep in touch with consumers?

Its bad reputation comes from bad advertising. Simple. We see so much stuff that just isn't very good. The secret to global advertising is adaptation while keeping faith with your brand's core identity. Audi stands for sportiness, sophistication and progression. Our "Vorsprung durch technik" tagline is the same everywhere - I love seeing it on TV in the UK.

- What are the hallmarks of a strong global brand?

Essentially, it's about trust. People need to believe in a product and a brand, so you need to understand what a consumer's expectations are. You need to deliver an authentic product and message on a global scale.

- Which global brand (other than your own) do you most admire?

Apple. It's a brand very much linked to the nature of Audi - design-driven and created by people who genuinely want something that is not only different, but better.

- What is the most important quality you look for in an advertising agency?

We want agencies that have the creative power to translate our core values into consumer benefits. Bartle Bogle Hegarty has been our partner for 20 years, so it has a clear idea of what Audi is about, and lives and breathes our brand.

- What is your favourite ad campaign of all time and why?

Apple's "think different" campaign. It's a clear, consistent message and the art work is striking and memorable.

LARRY LIGHT - global chief marketing officer, McDonald's

- What is the biggest challenge facing your brand today?

When we launched "I'm lovin' it", if nothing else we shocked the world with our new approach. It was the first time we had done anything globally and the focus on young adults was a dramatic change. The problem is how to sustain that energy through what I call "brand journalism" - telling the story of the brand - and not become predictable.

- Global brands are said to be more powerful than politicians. Do you agree? And if so, do they have a responsibility to improve society?

Global brand leaders have a responsibility, that's true. It's not just about how big you are, but how big you act. When people attack something, they attack the leader. We can't hide. But leadership is an opportunity, not just a problem. Take the environment - in four years, McDonald's has gone from evil empire to award winner.

- Advertising gets a bad reputation: how does it need to change to keep in touch with consumers?

The ad industry used to weave its magic and hope sales would go up. It's no longer that simple. Most ads are seen as irritating or boring. It's so important that we interest the consumer. That comes from drama and entertainment, which is why "I'm lovin' it" brought back music as a major part of our advertising strategy.

- What are the hallmarks of a strong global brand?

Three things: first, familiarity - not just awareness but a real understanding of a brand; second, relevance - when a brand stands still and the world changes, you lose it, which happened to McDonald's; third, authority - a combination of quality, leadership and trust. You can have a reputation for quality and leadership, but trust takes years to earn.

- Which global brand (other than your own) do you most admire?

Pepsi-Cola, for being the first brand to differentiate the customer rather than the product with its "Pepsi generation" campaign and reinventing advertising in the process. Another is Volkswagen. Through the Beetle launch in the US, it made cheap, affordable transportation cool, made a plus out of being small and made common sense desirable. My current favourite is Apple. It has resuscitated its brand and now the iPod is reinventing entertainment - just as McDonald's reinvented eating out.

- What is the most important quality you look for in an advertising agency?

Understanding our "freedom within a framework" mantra for "I'm lovin' it". There's a temptation for agencies to overplay the "freedom" part and, likewise, focus on the "framework" bit and think: "Larry will be OK with it because it's safe." Then there's our aim that a good idea doesn't care where it comes from. Actually, as we know, with the ad industry, this just isn't the case.

- What is your favourite ad campaign of all time and why?

I'd go back to Pepsi "generation" and VW - two brands that made cheap and affordable cool.

PETER STRINGHAM - group general manager, marketing, HSBC

- What is the biggest challenge facing your brand today?

We've had a good run over the past three years. "The world's local bank" campaign has worked really well, so the challenge is to sustain that and somehow refresh the brand idea but not deviate from it too much. It's a bit like making the sequel to a great movie.

- Global brands are said to be more powerful than politicians. Do you agree? And if so, do they have a responsibility to improve society?

It depends. Nelson Mandela is more powerful than most brands, but then he's a brand, too, isn't he? There's no question that global brands have a responsibility to the societies in which they operate. Not long ago, companies could get away with doing the odd charitable project. Now, the question is always: "What is the correct thing to do?"

- Advertising gets a bad reputation: how does it need to change to keep in touch with consumers?

It gets a bad reputation because it sometimes does some silly things. It tries to be too risque or edgy and turns out to be plain stupid. In the 30 years I've been in this industry, as long as you'd researched your message properly, eventually you'd get through to people. That's far less true now. Great advertising is now merely the cost of entry.

- What are the hallmarks of a strong global brand?

Clear differentiation, otherwise there's no sense in having a brand. There's not a category left that isn't close to being oversupplied and there are still so many brands that are unclear about what they're saying. A brand also needs to make sure its proposition translates to the customer experience.

- Which global brand (other than your own) do you most admire?

Starbucks. The brand is built on a familiar customer experience and its customers are super-loyal - my wife and friends are fanatics. And, at the end of the day, it's just a coffee shop. Second is Apple. It started off so well, then went off course when Steve Jobs left. The company forgot what Apple was about and lost its differentiation in its drive to be number one. Then Jobs returned and pulled it back from the brink. Apple also has hardcore fanatics, Macheads, who wouldn't dream of going near a PC.

- What is the most important quality you look for in an advertising agency?

Grey matter. I want really smart, strategic people. I want brains in every department. Forget about nice account handlers, I want really bright ones. And I want clever, witty creatives. Second, I want them to have a disciplined approach to their work. I want the David Abbotts of this world. He was incredibly bright, but also intensely disciplined in everything he did.

- What is your favourite ad campaign of all time and why?

Difficult. Ask me next week and I'll have changed my mind. But I'll go for the Apple series. It's incredible to think that "1984" was made 21 years ago. Then there was "think different", a simple, beautiful idea. Now there's "silhouette" for the iPod. They all make it look so easy.

COLIN GREEN - global marketing director, Land Rover

- What is the biggest challenge facing your brand today?

The automotive sector is a fast-changing marketplace, so the biggest challenge is making the most of the growth opportunities available to us while trying to retain our uniqueness. Over the next ten years, we have to modernise our brand but be careful to stay faithful to our brand identity.

- Global brands are said to be more powerful than politicians. Do you agree? And if so, do they have a responsibility to improve society?

In general terms, I agree, but that depends on what size brand you are. Even so, all brands - global or not - have a responsibility not to damage their host communities. We do a lot of environmental work, we supply vehicles for United Nations' peace-keeping forces, mountain rescue, the lifeboats and so on.

- Advertising gets a bad reputation: how does it need to change to keep in touch with consumers?

We've got to try to be relevant, inform without giving a false message and be true to our brand. We have to adapt to the ever-growing number of media channels and somehow break through. One observation is that we have to be more individualised. That's why more brands are moving into media such as interactive TV and SMS messaging.

- What are the hallmarks of a strong global brand?

To be true to its product values, adaptable and relevant. We're clearly very strong in the off-road arena but modern consumers want performance on the road too.

- Which global brand (other than your own) do you most admire?

Tesco. Over the past 15 years, the progression from a sub-premium cheap brand to a world-class retailer (now in 11 markets in Europe and Asia) has been remarkable. Apple is another I admire enormously. It had its problems but stuck to its core values and is now among the world's most cutting-edge design-led companies.

- What is the most important quality you look for in an advertising agency?

You get out of an agency what you put in. When I go into a meeting room and see poor creative work, there's no point getting deflated. I know what they can do. I've seen the quality stuff before. Perhaps it was the brief that was at fault. You both need to work hard at what you want from the relationship.

- What is your favourite ad campaign of all time and why?

Budweiser "whassup?". It was surprising and was very brave - the agency must have been quaking when it presented it to the client. But then that's a good example of a client and agency working well together.

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