Of Ducks and Doves: Strategy is Global, Creation should be Local

August 29, 2007


I again shamelessly recycle some comments I posted on the excellent blog of Fredrik Sarnblad . Then again, what is WEB 2.0 if not a never ending conversation ?

“What is a Brand, if not the footprint of a firm in popular culture ?”
… and what is more local than popular culture ? Can we really talk about Global Brands, when these brands are perceived through local cultural contexts, and are therefore local phenomenons ?

For Strategy, think global… and you know the rest for the rest
Let’s go a bit Percy BARNEVIK here. When firms “think global”, they indeed “act local” through Sales and Advertising.
Advertising has it down to two levels: Strategic Planning cares about the big picture, the global context, resources and objectives. Then Creative Process deals with the execution of the plan at field level, securing the strategic objectives set in the local context.

The need for firms to define their identity on the global level is a prerequisite of corporate coherence. Brand values and symbols are part of the organization MNCs are. Brand values can be used to support managerial choices and to inspire developments either in the Head Quarters or in local subsidiaries.

Brands and products cannot mean the same the world around, because consumption is first and foremost an appropriation process by which Consumers give the product and its benefits a specific meaning and a specific value. This process, most obviously, depends on the cultural, social and economic context.

Take the FORD Focus. A very generic compact car in Western Europe and North America, unable to qualify as premium like its competitor the VAG Golf, this model may turn into a company car complete with a chauffeur in South-East Asia.

2005 FORD Focus. It can be a run-of-the-mill
sedan or an Executive car according to the Market

The possibility of the Focus being an executive car in Thailand is why Global equipment suppliers like LEAR Corporation fit it with leather interior trimming and foldable tables that are not requested in the country of origin of the car (developed by FORD Europe).

Economic context and revenue levels play their part in defining Brands and Products to. In the streets of Port-au-Prince, women sell KELLOGS cornflakes by the cup, straight from the pack that is a fixture of morning breakfasts in many industrialized countries. What is a commodity in one country can be a luxury in another.

Creation is execution…
Fredrik Sarnblad presents an interesting chart on his blog. He describes the worst scenario of an add “exported” to another cultural context and creating a warped perception of the product or service. Below is my adaptation of Frederik’s drawing.

(Inspired by Fredrik Sarnblad)

Lots of funny stories can be told about this situation. One is the tale of this laundry detergent Ad, showing a pile of really dirty laundry, the miraculous product… and netly piles clean laundry.

The fun part is: How would that Ad “read”
in an Arabic cultural context ?
(Hint: Arab writing goes from Right to Left)
This “miracle product” does not look that miraculous
to wash djellabahs !

The fact that consumers schooled in an Arabic writing system (or hebraic, for that purpose) would “read” the visual of the real Ad from Right to Left might be an urban legend of International Marketing, just like the story of the CHEVROLET Nova which allegedly sold poorly in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s because its name phonetically translated into “It does not go”.

Execution is made on the field
What saves global brands from being “Lost in translation” in other cultures is that Creations are generally made by copywriters and Art directors that stem from the local culture.

There come the Ducks. Mandarin Ducks exactly. In Traditional China, a pair of Mandarin Ducks (yuang1 yang1) symbolize marital bliss.

In the 1930s, when Shanghai developed a movie industry heavily influenced by Hollywood, cutting to a pair of Mandarin Ducks effortlessly gliding on a pond in the morning was a clever way to say that two lovers had spent a beautiful night, instead of using Western codes to suggest the same idea… at the risk of alienating the audience.

Insight: A pair of Ducks gliding on a calm pond
symbolise a perfect marriage in Chinese tradition
This might be because they seem to glide effortlessly,
while they are paddling like crazy below the surface !

When I saw this poster for a Singaporean Jeweler, featuring a pair of Mandarin Ducks with the tagline “Every jewel is an Asian story”, I immediately understood, from my previous knowledge of Chinese symbols, that the creation was conveying a message of harmony and marital bliss. Other posters from the same campaign were unreadable for me. One feature bamboo prominently, and since I have no information about what bamboo symbolizes in Chinese culture, the effect of that ad was lost on me.

If the Communication Idea defined by the Strategic Planner was to embed the product (jewels) with symbols of marital bliss, a North American Creative Director would have chosen a pair of Doves to create an Ad that would have been engaging and immediately understandable by Western audiences.

Doves are not the universal symbol of Love.
I wonder what Chinese people would understand
from this image

With International agencies developing their network globally (i.e. locally, with subsidiaries staffed with local talent), the risk of having Ads “lost in translation” is diminished. Global Accounts are generally handled by these global networks, that ensure a smooth transition of the brand message across cultural boundaries.

One recent example of “mistranslation” happened to Zoe TAY, a Singaporean star, who lent her face to the Advertising campaign of a Cosmetic brand.

OK, Ms TAY “swallows” (2006)…
Which also means that she a modern woman,
confident in her skin, living life to the fullest.
Maybe the “misunderstanding” was not one?

That campaign created a mini controversy with its ambiguous and potentially raunchy tag line. That the controversy have or have not done some good for the value of the Brand advertised is better to be left to the local Marketing team.

What struck me is that the general “apology” from the firm when confronted by the press was that “Advertisers were based in London”, providing intercultural gaps as a cheap excuse.

Let’s get real here. Who in his/her sane budget-conscious mind would hire a London Ad agency to Photoshop-paste a hand written tag line on the glamour shot of a Singaporean actress ? Who in his/her right Account Management-savvy mind would believe that the ad was not approved or at least scrutinized by the Singaporean Marketing team of said cosmetic brand?

All these controversies and urband legends about the cultural differences between “The West” and “Asia” have fueled my personal interrogations since I started living in Singapore.

“What is Asia?”, “What does it mean to be Asian?”.

Professor Ishtiaq MAHMOOD interrogated my classmates about this at the beginning of his NUS course on “Asia in the Global Economy”.

If Asia goes from the Middle East (some say Dubai is an Indian city, and they do not seem to be completely wrong) to the Far East (that would be Northern Japan), it is clear that the concept of Asia is stretching the idea of a common cultural background.

Even single countries like India and China have several linguistic areas, different religions, regional climates… In every single Asian country, popular culture is evolving, embodied by young and dynamic demographics that integrate foreign influences and reconsider standards of acceptability*.

The challenge of a Regional Planner, working out Strategies that would be easily executed by Creative Teams from Karachi to Tokyo is indeed a Challenge. One that will be the next step in my career.

* Yup, that kiss between Aishwarya RAJ and Hrithik ROSHAN in DHOOM 2 was not that scandalous after all. About half the traffic on this blog is generated by this article 😉

Copyright: Alfred LARGANGE – August 2007

The Beijing Olympics go all “Kawai”…

August 28, 2007


They are so CUTE !
The five mascots of the 2008 Beijing Olympics have been presented as five lovely characters, a Fish, a Panda, a Fire Demon, a Tibetan Antelope and a Swallow.


As well as representing the five Olympic rings (one for each continent), they also symbolize five categories of sports (the Fish for aquatic sports ands the Antelope for track and field) and are linked to the Traditional Five Elements (wu xing) of nature enumerated by Chinese philosophy.

More over, their names, Bei bei, Jing jing, Huan huan, Ying Ying and Ni ni can be transposed to Beijing Huanying Ni, “Beijing welcomes you” in Mandarin.

Characters linked to Olympic symbols and to Chinese Philosophy, moreover giving a mnemotechnic welcome message. “Hen hao !” would I say with my budding Mandarin. “Very good”. What is even better is that the five characters are cute.

Cute is a key element of Communication Strategy
In fact, being cute is a key element of brand communication, and forgetting about it can cost dearly. Take the example of Goleo. Goleo was the mascot of the 2006 FIFA World Cup held in Germany.

His Majesty Edson Arantes de Nascimiento with Goleo.
An unbeatable team … on paper

Despite being introduced in 2004 by soccer gods Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, Goleo could not engage the crowds on an emotional level. Designed by The Jim Hanson Company, the derivated toys representing the German mascot did not sell well. NCI, the Bavarian toy maker who had purchased the licensing rights to the character, filed for bankruptcy in May 2006.

The mistake: Taking an adult lion 
Forget about the controversies about choosing a Lion, the national emblem of Britain, for an event set in Germany. Nobody really yearned to see a German Eagle strutting around in a global sports event, not after 70 years

The first problem was that Goleo appeared as a adult lion, characterized by his long snout and small eyes, and of course, his royal mane. Adult lions are not generally considered as sympathetic animals. They are fierce and carnivorous. They are strong, fast and aggressive.

In Western imagery, because of their loud and aggressive mating behavior, Lions are symbols of sexual power. Suddenly, the idea of an adult lion running around pantless does not seem very likely to be a crowd pleaser…

Goleo, No Fear, No Pants…
(the gaze of the ball below makes this even funnier…)

The smart move by the Beijing Olympics branding team has been to select baby animals as mascots. With round shapes, proportionally big heads and short members and big eyes, mascots look like baby animals. They are neotenic, looking like new borns.

CUTE sells… a lot !
What is good marketing wise is that neotenic translates into “cute”, and cute is attractive. Human instinct brings us to protect and nurture our kin when it shows neotenic features. We are naturally attracted to babies, and this also goes for baby animals.

Neoteny is a global marketing constant, especially in entertainment. The Japanese concept of “kawai”, with icons such as Hello Kitty and Hamtaro drive millions of dollars in royalties and derived products sales.

Hamtaro: any cuter, you die
(probably from high blood sugar)

By creating five energetic and easy to love characters, the branding team of Beijing 2008 tapped into a global trend that seems to guarantee that Derived product and toys sales around the event will be strong.

That is, if quality control for the manufacturing of the toys is enforced correctly…

Copyright: Alfred LARGANGE – August 2007

OK, OK… Here is my piece about the iPhone!

July 5, 2007


 My buddy Alex told me that I should write a piece about the iPhone. I wasn’t sure at first. Isn’t the new gadget what everybody is talking about in the Blogosphere* ? Well, if fact the point that everybody had a story about the iPhone is …the story.

“The best branding success is having consumers tell the story as opposed to you telling the story”

Craig HARVEY, Director of Media research – SYNOVATE Asia Pacific
(Source: An article in the Blog of Marketing Magazine)

What do we see with the very successful launch of APPLE’s last product ?

  1. “Only” $100 million of advertising budget.
    Thats half of what MICROSOFT spent to launch Win95. The buzz generation power of APPLE made just about everybody and their grand mother aware of the launch of the new product.
  2. Beside the Media Budget, PR at its historic best. 
    The product, its features and yes, its sales figures made up a sizeable portion of the published content in magazines and news papers, as well as on line (blogs and other websites).
    The funny thing is that by being successful, the iPhone generates media coverage that makes it… more successful. A virtuous circle indeed.
  3. A new product with no breakthrough innovation.
    Just like the iPod was in fact developed by HEWLETT PACKARD, the iPhone is made of SAMSUNG electronic components up to 30% of its production cost. 
    This might mean that other industry players will be quick to duplicate the product features (if they haven’t already introduced similar products, like Korean phone manufacturer LG), but they will not be able to replicate the hype.

What is unusual in the iPhone’s runaway success is that, as far as we are talking about a new product, the dreaded gap between Innovators and Early Adopters seems to be inexistent.

This does not come as a surprise because the first buyers (well, except the ones who camped in front of APPLE stores to be first in line) are not at all geeks. Instead of being a profession of faith in Steve Jobs and the user friendly technology-as-magic from the Infinite Loop, the act of buying an iPhone is a fashion statement among Young Urban Professionals.

What we see in action is APPLE’s Brand Power. With 700,000 units sold on the first week (according to Goldman Sachs) and forecasted sales of 4.5 million units in 2007 and 30 millions in 2011, the iPhone is set to be the third jewel of the APPLE product portfolio, with the iMac and the iPod.

iMac… iPod… iPhone…
The very happy “iWin” family

Now what is really Cool about the launch of the iPhone ?

What is really Cool about the iPhone launch is that product and the firm behind it are not the ones doing all the talking: Consumers and Fans are.

One of the most intangible rules of Cool is that one is never allowed to say that he is Cool. It is for others to say so.

The iPhone is not trying to appear as cool. It is just being its own seamingly unassuming self, the new friendly neighborhood star, humble enough to pay respects to other stars by saying “Hello”.

The iPhone “Hello” teaser Ad.
(TBWA\Media Arts Lab – Creative Director Eric Grunbaum)
By paying its respects to Hollywood icons, the new product
subtly asserts its place as a global icon in its own right.

So is the iPhone Cool at the moment? What we see are blogs and discussion forums buzzing about a product most of the contributors did not purchase… yet.

The Target Audience is engaged before the first media dollar is spent on trying to convince it. If charm is defined as “The ability to elicit a positive answer even before asking for something”, the iPhone is definitely charming.

Charming, and the talk of the global village. Modifications to the product’s Wikipedia entry have been restricted to long term contributors. An honor reserved so far to high profile news makers.

To pitch successfully, listen to the story in the making 

With consumers being the first to “tell the story”, instead of the Advertising Agency, it is more than certain that TBWA will go through a lot of listening before drafting a Communication Strategy for the iPhone.

To come up with Communication Ideas to engage the Late Majority of consumers, the Agency will have to be consistent with the story that is now written by consumers and the public in general.

It is not such a wild guess to foresee a very YANG Communication: not much to be said about the product features, but a strong emphasis on the emotional benefits associated with the ownership of the product.

Gone will be the thrill of being the first in the office to flaunt the coveted gadget. Instead, belonging to a growing community of users** who combine personal communication and multimedia content consumption will certainly be the iPhone’s Unique Selling Proposition.

TBWA\Chiat\Day’s “Silhouettes” iPod campaign stated the obvious (for young people, music is for dancing and feeling great) without uttering a word. My wild guess is that the coming iPhone’s campaign will be about something as obvious as the pleasure to reach someone to say “Hello”. One word.

Of course, it will take more than a Lionel Ritchie song.  

Copyright Alfred LARGANGE – July 2007

* Just try the iPhone tag below to have an idea of the buzz created in the WordPress community.

** As well as the iPod, the iPhone will build its success on the value network build around the iTunes digital music website and the Quicktime video player (which is updated with regularity by the Apple Movie Trailers users, who provide updated contact info for Interactive Marketing.)

Bollywood and Hollywood: Closing the Gap ?

June 29, 2007


I shamelessly recycle the comments I posted on a very interesting article about the Indian movie market. The evolutions of the Bollywood cinema in the last years reveal both local and global issues.

Bollywood cinema: A force to reckon with

When I arrived in Singapore 3 years ago, I discovered that Indian pop culture was very strong and that my NUS Indian classmates were more interested in Indian songs and movies than they were in the global offerings in terms of pop music (Britney, Justin and Christina) and Hollywood.

Indeed, my Indian MBA classmates were surprised to learn that I had already seen “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” (2001), an almost 3 hours long movie starring Amitab Bacchan, (the reigning King of Bollywood), the ridiculously handsome Hrithik Roshan, Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor.

The cast of  “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham”
Almost 3 hours of glamour, drama
… and singing

Supply being more ample in Singapore than it was in France, I had more opportunities to see Indian movies and get interested in the Bollywood culture.

I was a bit dissapointed by “Bride and Prejudice”. I saw Gurinder Chada’s movie as a flawed attempt to “close the gap” between Bollywood and Hollywood, bringing the best of Bollywood (and what a best it was, in the person of Aishwarya Raj!) in a format following the Hollywood conventions of romantic comedy on the canvas of Jane Austen’s master piece.

Martin Henderson and Aishwarya Raj in “Bride and Prejudice”
To respect the Bollywood conventions,
they did not share an onscreen kiss

Somehow, the plot and the characters could not choose a stand between both cultures: the Western characters had the romantic behavior of well groomed Indians, which was weird. The musical parts, except a lively opening dance, were too stretched (Gospel on a Californian beach ? Aishwarya getting all rock an roll?)

When enjoying “Dhoom 2″, I felt that Bollywood was on the move to “close the gap” with Hollywood. The mix between spectacular action sequences and stunts on par with their US counterparts (including the suspension of disbelief), and catchy songs and over the top dance numbers in the best Indian tradition was perfect. And the setting of the second part was Rio de Janeiro, with Baghra music melting seemlessly with capoeira in eye-popping sequences.

While the prequel, “Dhoom 1” was just a Bollywood rip off of Taxi, banking on the Indian biker culture, “Dhoom 2” brought the game to the next level. The film was like Mission Impossible (narcissistic lead man, chase sequences and gun fights), with a healthy dose of Bollywood fare: catchy songs and dance numbers.

The added “bonus” was the two stars sharing an onscreen kiss in a very dramatic sequence, an addition that indicates that the producers acknowledge the acceptance of Hollywood codes by the Indian public (although a few frustrated souls threatened to sue Aishwarya Raj for “degrading Indian women”).

Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Raj in DHOOM 2
The Bollywood stars “closed the gap”
and broke all conventions by sharing
 a controversial onscreen kiss

“Tararumpum” sounded like and Indian style version of “Days of Thunder” or worse, “Talladega Nights” made more realistic with a US setting, so I wrote it down as another Indian attempt at closing the gap. I took a rain check on this one, thinking that Bollywood “going 100%” was a bit too much for a good Bollywood experience. Box Office reception was lukewarm yet acceptable, factoring in the simultaneous opening of Spiderman 3 in India.

The release of the last opuses of the Spiderman franchise in India might be the signal that Hollywood (or the local subsidiaries of US distributors) had decided to close the gap with the Indian public, by offering its movies in Indian languages.

Spiderman 3 did three things right. First, it released a record number of prints – 588 compared with an average of 500 for Hindi films. There were also 261 prints in Hindi, 162 in English, 78 in Tamil, 81 in Telugu and 6 in Bhojpuri (a language spoken in eastern state Bihar) – a record number of prints for any foreign movie. Spiderman 2 was released in 2004 with 303 prints with about 100 prints in local languages and was the third best grosser in India.
(Source: The Asian Pacific Post, June 1st, 2007)

Obviously, for Hollywood, “closing the gap” is not made in terms of adopting or adapting cultural codes, but more in terms of adapting the products for easier local consumption. The ample ressources of the Indian movie industry in terms of dubbing, post synchronization, etc. make it easy and economically sound for American studios to adapt their movies to the tastes of the public, one thing that the French movie industry has failed to do so far.

I just keep wondering what will happen in the near future. Will the Indian public, which is young and getting more educated every year, switch to “the real thing”, i.e. watching American movies in English language?

Pop music and movies closing the gap too ?

Globalization is at work in India too. A Thai pop music star, Tata Young, made a successful cover of “Dhoom 1” title song. It failed to make it big in the West, but was a succes in South East Asia.

 Tata Young performing the theme song of “Dhoom 1”

What will be next? Will Indian movie stars globally release singles of their movie songs in English as part of the promotion plan of Bollywood movies ? Will Smith did the same successfully for “Men In Black” and “Wild Wild West”.

Will Smith’s video clip – “Men in Black”

Will Smith’s experience could also give a few hints to Hollywood. Pop music is an increasing part of the global promotion plan of movies. Example abound like Destiny’s Child “Survivor” hit, paired with “Charlie’s Angels”, but what abour songs as-part-of-the movie ? The delightful “Ella Enchanted” (2004) had a partly Indian cast, and some nice singing numbers.

“Ella enchanted”’s final sequence

 With Hollywood actors increasingly better at singing than before (Anne Hattaway is a trained singer and Justin Timberlake starts an acting carreer), pop music could bring the entertainment value of movies to the next level.

John Travolta’s Chilly Palmer was involved in movie making in “Get Shorty”, later moving on to pop music in the sequel, “Be Cool”. Does anyone see a pattern here ?

Copyright: Alfred LARGANGE – June 2007

Penguins teach us about Cool

June 28, 2007


I first wanted to write a piece about the “Penguin Fad” when I saw the promotional posters for “Surf is Up”. This was the fourth movie prominently figuring Penguins to hit the Singaporean screens in a 24 month period.

What I was treated to was a handful of insights about Cool.

The last wave of the Penguin fad

“Surf is up” is the last wave of the Penguin fad. First was the dramatic French documentary, “March of the Penguins” (January 2005 in France), revealing the hardships and the beauty Life in Antarctica. Then there were the master escapists in “Madagascar” (May 2005), with their smooth commando moves and their slightly neurotic leader. After that were the delightful “Happy Feet” (November 2006) and its moving message against over fishing in the Southern seas.

The last movie of the Penguin Fad
happens to be the “Coolest”…
despite its tropical setting

With “Surf is up”, it seems that the Hollywood dream factories are poised to milk the Penguin fad to the last drop. The result is a 3D CGI light and funny lesson in the Art of Being cool, in the form of a “mockumentary”.

A lesson in Cool

Cody Maverick, a young Rockhopper Penguin lives in “small town Antarctica” * and spends all his spare time surfing the waves caused by the big chunks of glaciers falling in the ocean. After meeting with Big Z, a legendary surf champion on his world tour, Cody has become and avid surfer, pursuing his calling up to the point of taking part in a World Surf Contest set in a paradisiac tropical island.

Along the road, Cody pulls an aged and depressed Big Z from retirement, befriends Joe, a surfing rooster from Michigan and competes with bullying champion Tank. By the way, Cody does not win the championship, as the Hollywood standards would have it. All he takes from the adventure is to understand on a deep level the advice Big Z, his father figure, gave him all those years ago: “Find your way”.

What we can can get from this entertaining movie are insight about the essence of Cool.

Cool is about being oneself

Cool is not showing off one’s abilities and championship trophies like Tank (Doing push ups over a bed of hot coals bed? Come on!). The winner of the contest, surprisingly, is Joe, the coolest rooster ever to grace movie screens**, a living embodiment of Carlos SANTANA’s words: “Choose integrity over popularity and you will always be Cool”.

How does this strain of coolness translate for brands ? Will all the coolhunters and branding consultants finally say that the best way to reach the Graal is just to being oneself? It may be so.

Today’s Cool automotive brands are the ones who refused decades ago to compromise their identities and features by adopt the most economically efficient designs (Front wheel drive and transverse engines).
MERCEDES-BENZ, BMW, ASTON MARTIN and PORSCHE have retained their Rear Wheel Drive layouts (PORSCHE has even built cars on the same architecture for the last 43 years!). Staying true to oneself does not mean shunning improvement: All these carmakers have invested in technology and engineering to keep their product up to date in term or road capabilities, comfort and safety.

 Coolness is a challenge in the luxury universe 

What is Luxury if not the relentless pursuit of perfection once a Brand identity has been set? LOUIS-VUITTON never gave up its monogram leather, although more cost effective materials have emerged for luggage manufacture.

These iconic luxury products have reach Cool because
their Brand integrity has paid in the long run. 

Coolness is the Luxury universe might send a paradoxical message: “Look how unaffected I appear to be while all I care about is to appear unaffected”.
Coolness is not about “catching the next wave” in Consumer Culture. This is just called “trying to look Smart”. Coolness as a status cannot be achieved overnight with obscenely huge Media budgets and frantic PR. Chasing consumer and popular culture trends like coolhunters do not automatically lead to Cool.

Telling Brands Managers in the search of Cool to just “Let [their] Brands be themselves” might sound as a disappointing advice. However, by winning the Surf Contest by enjoying himself on his board, without even seeming to care about the competition, Joe the Surfing Rooster gives a great lesson: the roots of success are already embedded in the reality of the Brand and its product. What ultimately breeds success is the unflinching dedication of Brand Managers to achieve a higher degree of authenticity, refining the Product’s quality and making it intuitively consistent with the corporate identity and history of the firm producing it.

Chicken Joe vs Tank.
One is really Cool while the other “tries too hard”

“Trying too hard” is not the way. Success happens when a Product that has preserved its integrity meets the untapped need of a sizeable demographic. Let’s not forget that Early Adopters are the forerunners of the Early Majority. Their embracing a new product or service might be the result of clever Marketing Communication campaign, but a genuine recognition of a latent need is the signal of success.

The point is to hone one’s skills and resources, in order to catch the next big wave.

Copyright: Alfred LARGANGE – June 2007

* In reality, Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome) do not live as South as Antarctica, limiting themselves to south Seas archipelagos like the Falklands, the Kerguelen and islands off Argentina and Southern Chile.
** Panchito Pistoles being the closest contender.