Ah, the brave new world of global branding, as multinational
advertisers push products across borders, backed by campaigns speaking
in the universal language of human desire, until they are embraced by
eager consumers from Timbuktu to Times Square.
Or is that marketers' dream of a small, small shopping world nothing
more than, as the playwright and politician Clare Booth Luce once so
succinctly put it, globaloney?
Stimulating some scepticism about global branding is news that Britain's
Virgin Group has unexpectedly closed Virgin Drinks USA, formerly Virgin
Cola USA. The shutdown apparently ends efforts to establish an American
beverage beachhead dating to the summer of 1996, when Virgin Cola
entered a test market in Philadelphia with advertising from Rainey Kelly
Two years later, armed with an in-your-face campaign from a US agency,
Ground Zero, that included a male couple's wedding kiss, Virgin was
rolled out into big cities on the East and West Coasts. The response
As effervescent as week-old Virgin Cola left out in the rain. A change
of agencies followed, along with new packaging and the addition of
vitamin- and mineral-enhanced waters, but all seemingly for nought.
'It's a tough category to crack, with heavyweight competition,' Gary
Hemphill, senior vice-president of the Beverage Marketing Corporation,
an industry consulting company, says. 'It's certainly not for the faint
One major problem, according to Hemphill, is that 'the Virgin trademark
doesn't have the same panache in the US as it has in the UK'. That's a
fatal flaw in a category so dominated by the entrenched behemoths
Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, which already face lots of challenger brands
sold by the likes of Cadbury Schweppes and Snapple.
But wait. According to the global branding gang, it shouldn't be that
difficult to stimulate sales in one country for a product that's popular
and successful in another, especially if there is support in the form of
ads and promotions. They cite examples ranging from Coke and Colgate
toothpaste to Mercedes-Benz and Heinz beans.
Yet just as the Cold War comes back into vogue, as the nationalism of
the new American administration in Washington replaces the world view of
the previous White House, a more parochial perception of branding
appears to be making its way along Madison Avenue.
Look at Coca-Cola. The company was long known for global marketing
efforts for its flagship soft-drink brand, as exemplified by the famous
McCann-Erickson commercial in which the planet's thirstiest chorus
gathered on a hilltop to offer to 'buy the world a Coke and keep it
Now, a new chief executive officer, Douglas Daft, has a new
mantra-cum-motto: 'Think local, act local.' For instance, it will be up
to bottlers in local countries to determine which agencies will create
Coca-Cola's revamped rationale is that it's hard for a global brand to
present itself with a consistent image, particularly when the cultures
in which it is peddled vary so widely (and wildly). The need for
relevancy in local markets requires branding to be decentralised, albeit
underpinned by some core values that resonate in ads as they run around
In other words, if Coca-Cola is declaring global branding to be
globaloney, what hope for the Virgin version?