Worldwide Advertising: Country Profiles - Global or local? - As stronger cultural identities begin to emerge across the world, the bigger brands need to take a more sophisticated approach to their global marketing. Charles Trevail reports

Is the marketing mantra ’Think global: act local’ old hat? Should it be replaced by ’Think local: act global’? Of course, there are no black-and-white answers to these questions. But there is evidence to suggest the pendulum is swinging from ’Think global’ to ’Think local’. Why?

Is the marketing mantra ’Think global: act local’ old hat? Should

it be replaced by ’Think local: act global’? Of course, there are no

black-and-white answers to these questions. But there is evidence to

suggest the pendulum is swinging from ’Think global’ to ’Think local’.


’Think global’ has too often been an excuse for companies to


As a result, local market management, paid to manage local difference,

can feel redundant - a disastrous consequence when companies are trying

to harness the skills and creativity of their people. Central management

worries about lack of consistency and, as a consequence, imposes

insensitive measures of commonality. In the process, many companies, in

their pursuit of global domination, have discovered that what works at

home doesn’t always work abroad.

Companies are now thinking locally, because globalisation is matched by

an strong trend towards fragmentation. The growth of the English

language is unstoppable, yet at the same time there is a resurgence of

local languages and dialects taking place. Equally, we hear much about

economic convergence across trading blocks such as the EC and the ASEAN,

yet the gap between rich and poor within regions is growing. In Asia

alone, the richest country, Japan, has a GDP per head of US dollars

28,217, while in Nepal, the poorest, it is US dollars 165. So much for

the homogenous Asian consumer.

Of course, consumers don’t really break down into those affected by

global or local trends. They are a complex mixture of both. In this

environment, the mode of centralised brand management which valued

consistency and rigidity cannot hope to work. Nowadays, the centre tends

to provide direction, guidance and support and encourages creativity

within an agreed framework.

The trick is to determine what must be managed rigidly, ensuring that

the brand is visible and recognised worldwide, and what can be adapted

locally to suit particular markets, geographic regions or customer


Companies are opting for one of four familiar strategies to cope with

this increasingly complex international arena.

Global - single, monolithic, umbrella brands.

Brands such as IBM and Sony have a vision and confidence that transcend

local and national cultures. They draw on global concepts of customer

service and innovation and have implemented them worldwide without


This approach is not for the faint-hearted, or those without deep


For the successful, their brand names will become their most valuable

asset. The growth of global media and the Internet should, in theory,

make it easier to establish a brand as having a ’global’ identity.

National exporters - brands which operate globally, but whose identity

revolves around their local or national origins and heritage.

McDonald’s, Levi Strauss and Disney merchandise the American dream;

Chanel and Luis Vuitton represent the best in French chic; Armani,

Italian style; Burberry, classic English luxury, and Wedgwood, the

cosiness of the English tea tradition. If you can trade successfully on

your national characteristics, you have a head start. As differentiation

on a global scale becomes increasingly difficult, expect to see more

brand owners develop and manage brands based on their national, regional

and local characteristics.

Global adaptors - global brands which adjust aspects of their identity

to suit local markets.

This has traditionally been the strategy for companies establishing a

foothold in a new geographic market. It is still very effective.

Wal-Mart, a US retailer with 25 per cent of its earnings coming from

Asia, is opening stores across Asia, under the Wal-Mart name, but with

an emphasis on merchandise of local origin. Sony Entertainment in India

is the fastest growing channel because it opted to broadcast in

Hindustani, while CNN, MTV, the BBC and others broadcast mainly in

English. Increasingly, some of the most successful global brands are

’adapting’. Coca-Cola now wants to reflect the diversity of different

local markets in its advertising, to make it as much a local friend as

an icon of a remote civilisation.

National brands - a mix of brands that lack the resources to globalise,

those that have been launched locally before going global, through to

those that have been developed especially for a local market.

In the highly competitive Asian car market, both Honda and Toyota have

recently launched their first ’Asia-specific’ cars, designed and

marketed solely for Asian consumers. As greater fragmentation occurs and

more micro belief systems emerge, marketers will capitalise by launching

more ’national’ brands. An interesting development has arisen in the

test marketing of new products. For instance, Unilever first launched

its Organics shampoo in Thailand, and then rolled out elsewhere


So, while there are no stock answers, if you are thinking global and

acting locally, you might want to think again. Those who have tried it

recently will tell you it’s not that easy. Try thinking locally and

acting globally. It’s not any easier, but in today’s complex world, it

is more likely to work.

- Charles Trevail is managing director of Sampson Tyrrell Enterprise.The

Enterprise Identity Group is WPP’s identity consultancy and has offices

in London, New York, San Francisco, Taipei and HongKong.