Can an ad work beyond its home turf?
Can an ad work beyond its home turf?
A view from Eleanor Thornton-Firkin

Think BR: Making ads work globally

'It won't work here' is a familiar phrase to all of us who are involved in global campaigns, writes Eleanor Thornton-Firkin, director, Ipsos ASI.

There's always something - the casting is wrong, that storyline would never happen in my country, etc. But in these cash strapped times transferring an ad across markets might seem tempting - particularly if the ad has already proved itself to be a good little performer. 

So can an ad work beyond its home turf?

The brief answer is sometimes, but more often than not the locals are at least partly right. Ipsos ASI’s research has found that a third of ‘airable’ ads, ie, those with an average or strong performance in the first market are simply too entrenched in their home market’s cultural context to work elsewhere.

An equal amount have the right idea but the execution needs tweaking to make it more locally appealing and motivating.

Two areas which prove really difficult to get right from one market to the next are humour and celebrities. Both tend to be place- and culture-specific. Using slapstick in a market where ads tend to focus more on wordplay and satire, for example, is an instant audience turn-off.

So what of the remaining ads, the ones with passports and good language skills, what do they have that makes them able to transcend national boundaries? Well, above all, they stick to the universal advertising truths - great creative with a simple, relevant, emotionally engaging story that can be owned by the brand. These elements provide a good foundation for transfer to other markets.

Another characteristic, indeed a defining one, of a truly successful global ad is that it is based on a fundamental insight that is recognised and identified with throughout the world. And most importantly the brand has been able to connect to it in a natural, authentic way through a big idea which engages and motivates the intended audience. Think 'Dirt is Good'- it just makes sense to all parents everywhere.

Beyond creative there are additional ways to improve the chances of transferring ads successfully. Don’t go for a one ad to rule the world approach, instead look for groups of markets with similarities between the origin and transfer market.

Is the brand in a similar place in terms of its history, positioning and equity? Is the market situation similar in terms of market size, competitive landscape, and macro economic factors? You wouldn’t use the same ad to both launch a brand as well as maintain it in your home country, so why attempt to do so across markets?

So what if your ad does need a little tweaking here and there to make the big global idea resonate on a local level? Experience suggests that, once they start, many advertisers are tempted to make major changes to an ad in an effort to make it more locally suitable.

But if you’re changing format, key messages, casting or humour then in essence you are making a new ad not transferring one. So isn’t it time to go back to the brief?

That said there are times when the big idea is working and some tweaks reflecting a country’s social values, attitudes and lifestyle make sense to improve transferability success rates.

If you’re thinking of making these types of changes, then it's worth thinking about testing your creative in the destination market. I know, I know, I would say that wouldn’t I, I do work at a research agency.

But there are strong benefits to testing - if you're the local recipient it'll give you the ammunition to either send the ad back across the border with its tail between its legs or give you the reassurance to lay it out for the media. 

And if you're the global team, you never know - you might learn something about the prevailing ad landscape that will help you craft better executions next time. 

With all that said there is still one more thing that could scupper your chances and that is logistics. Consider this scenario: a global team has created a successful outdoor campaign, consumer response is overwhelmingly positive in the destination market and yet still the local marketing director says "we can’t run it". "Why not?", "It’s too dark", "Well yes that’s what makes it so premium, arresting and different", "Yes but it’s dark here for four months of the year, and we have no backlit sites, so literally no one will see it".

Sometimes - no matter what - it just won’t work here.

Eleanor Thornton-Firkin, director, Ipsos ASI