The internet giant eBay is about to advertise for the first time in the UK. Pitching last week and awaiting the result are Ogilvy & Mather, Joshua, DFGW and Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners.
The online auction, where you can buy and sell anything from a 50p book of stamps to a multimillion-pound jet, has been a magnet for a vibrant community. It's got a global customer base of 95 million and a presence in 28 international markets, including the US. Consolidated net revenues for the fourth quarter of 2003 were $648.4 million (£357.8 million), up 57 per cent on the same period in 2002.
The brand's global appeal means it could easily have hired one ad network to come up with a worldwide advertising proposition. Yet interestingly, this has not been eBay's approach. Work in three key markets has been by distinct shops: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in the US, Jung von Matt/Alster in Germany and Ogilvy & Mather in Taiwan.
The target audience varies from country to country depending on the maturity of the service in different markets. (EBay is focusing on both new and existing customers in the US; existing users in Germany; and, in Taiwan, new buyers.) However, the emotion of using the online auction site is a recurrent theme.
According to Jamie Barrett, the creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the US brief was multi-headed. "To the uninitiated, eBay is still a different way of buying and selling. The overall idea was to make eBay feel accessible, user-friendly and fun, and to celebrate its unique nature."
TV spots, directed by Sam Mendes, first aired 18 months ago and use musical hits to make information accessible. Songs such as My Way, On Broadway and Do You Know the Way to San Jose? have had their lyrics rewritten for the eBay brand. "I see the ads as musical infomercials, produced to the 'nth degree," Barrett says .
"We feel we have a once-in-a-generation client on our hands," he adds.
"EBay is doing so well over here that part of the challenge is not to muck it up. On the one hand it wants the work to grow the business, while on the other, it's done so well without advertising it's about not hurting that."
In Germany, the independent agency Jung von Matt/Alster pitched for the eBay account at the beginning of last year. The brief was to communicate the feeling of using eBay to existing customers, of which there are about 16 million. "This made it easier for us because we didn't have to explain the eBay system. There's a huge group of users in Germany," the executive creative director, Oliver Voss, says.
"The strategic idea was to focus on the emotional moment when you're about to find out whether you're winning or not," he continues. The TV work dramatises big moments with small stories, so, for example, a mother feeding her child is so fixed on her computer screen that she doesn't notice the family dog licking the baby food off the spoon.
Meanwhile, Ogilvy & Mather's work in Taiwan aims to drive demand for the eBay service. "The belief is that as long as we drive up the demand, sellers will follow," Katherine HJ Sun, the group account director at Ogilvy & Mather, Taiwan, says.
Given this, the creative execution targets buyers - specifically new buyers - with the proposition that "Nothing beats finding it at eBay".
Before the campaign launched in June last year, awareness of eBay was significantly lower than its key competitor Yahoo!, she explains, so a major task was to boost brand awareness.
Three 30-second TV spots use stories to portray how users' lives change with the help of eBay. "What's precious about these finds at eBay isn't the price or even the fact that you found a rare item but the feeling related to the item," Sun adds.
So what are the benefits of a local approach rather than a one-size-fits-all global push? "For eBay, being dominant in the US, the way for it to communicate would be very different to how it is here in Taiwan, where it is second to its key competitor," Sun adds. "I definitely welcome the flexibility in localising the strategy and creative work."
A market-specific approach also means cultural and creative quirks are given the chance to shine. For example, eBay's German advertising slogan "3... 2...1...meins!" (the rhyme is important, Voss explains - a rough translation might be "3...2...1...done!") is now inextricably linked with the brand.
"The base of the whole campaign is our slogan," he says. "People use it on the streets when they are talking about eBay. Nobody from a centralised or global agency would have had the idea to use it."
Certainly, the emotions inspired by the eBay bidding experience cross cultural boundaries. Regardless of whether it is creative work for the US or Taiwan, Sun explains: "The feeling we try to tap into is the same - and that's the fun and excitement of finding, selling and trading things on eBay." Barrett sums it up: "There's a feeling that once you've crossed that threshold you're a convert. That feeling is true wherever you are."