Cannes 2010: Digital usage - Going global or respecting local sensitivities?

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Cannes | In Advertising | June 21, 2010
In a panel discussion on the first day of the International Advertising Festival at Cannes, experts discussed the usage of the digital medium across cultures

It has been stated time and again that the digital medium has shrunk the world, transforming it into a global village. However, at the same time, the medium has also remained largely local, targeting select communities in different parts of the world.

In one of the seminars on the first day of the 57th Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, a panel discussed the issue of 'Digital Across Cultures: Superglobal Or Hyperlocal'. The discussion was organised by independent cross-cultural marketing specialist, Textappeal, and Columbus Media International, a network of 28 independent media agencies.

& #BANNER1 & #The panel comprised Elliot Polak, founder and chief executive officer, Textappeal; Dominik Terruhn, managing partner, PLAN.NET (Columbus Germany); and Trevor Johnson, head of planning and strategy, Facebook Europe. The discussion was moderated by Kate Williams, managing director, Columbus International.

The discussion began with the panellists citing examples of campaigns that worked on both global and local levels. Johnson began with a couple of global campaigns that Facebook was a part of.

The first of these was Nike's recent Write the Future campaign. Facebook was at the heart of the global campaign, which was done in 20 markets worldwide. While the campaign was global in nature, Nike understood what would work best locally. For example, the commercials featured basketball star, Kobe Bryant and English footballer, Wayne Rooney, to work best in the US and UK markets, respectively.

"We were able to deliver the same experience in every country with the global campaign delivered in local markets. Nike was able to have a global splash on one single platform," said Johnson.

The second example Johnson used was Nokia's campaign on Facebook, which targeted select audiences in various regions of the world. Here too, the brand used one execution across numerous countries. The Facebook page generated over a million fans in over 20 countries.

Terruhn followed with examples of Axion, a European bank and Fromms Mapa, a German condom brand.

Axion successfully supported and connected with its youth audience by promoting young bands in Belgium, with a concept called 'Banner Concerts'. They built boxes on the same scale as internet banners, and the bands played in the boxes.

The performances were streamed live on the internet using the framework of traditional banners across several websites. Thus, 25 bands performed in six million banners, which attracted almost 45,000 visitors. Viewers voted for their favourites, who won a spot at a live gig.

In the case of Fromms Mapa, the company produced an interactive banner ad, designed to reflect the flexibility and durability of its products. The stretchable ad could be expanded like latex, any way the user's cursor moved. The cursor became, in effect, a single sperm cell, kept in check by the elasticity and tear-proof nature of the condom/ad.

Polak, on his part, suggested that a lot of interesting work has come from pushing the boundaries and understanding the local culture.

He used the examples of two campaigns - one in a conservative market such as Saudi Arabia, and the other in a relatively tolerant market such as Brazil.

Launching the Danish lingerie and swimming brand, Change in Jeddah, the brand's digital campaign had bodies of fashion models wearing the products carefully struck out with black marker, with the line, 'Edit anything but the bra'. Interestingly, the campaign was well-received in Saudi Arabia.

The campaign for Devassa, a Brazilian beer brand, raised eyebrows, however. Eventually, the government of the country suggested that the television commercial be banned, because it was found to be distasteful. The commercial featured Paris Hilton in a tight, little black dress, running a cold can of the beer over her body, while in a city apartment in full public view.

However, much before the commercial was aired, Hilton had already gained a huge local internet fan base by being filmed partying in Brazilian bars endorsing Devassa (that translates into 'dirty blonde' in Brazilian Portuguese). Videos of her provocative antics were uploaded on YouTube everyday for three weeks; and the ban just helped the brand further.

Williams moved on to asking Johnson if technology was really making the world smaller.

"One uses Facebook to connect with friends worldwide; and at the same time, even catch up with a favourite local café. Both global and local coexist on a single platform," Johnson replied.

Polak and Johnson then debated over the nature of Facebook's success. Polak claimed that the social networking site was built on a US model, which takes pride in showing off a larger number of friends and increased social activity. The same site, he said, was not very popular in Japan, where such behaviour is seen as being superficial. Moreover, in that country, the Facebook 'Like' button is not favoured; while the 'Public Wall' could be embarrassing.

He suggested that brands must understand that people interact differently in different cultures.

Johnson replied that Facebook was not just about friends, but was meant to connect with anyone who adds value to experience. He did admit to the Japanese reaction to the site, and said that such local issues are being looked into.

Being asked as to which other themes, besides social networking, could be instantly successful globally, Terruhn said that themes such as friends, family, or love have different nuances in each country, and must be broken down to be understood better in respective regions.

Polak suggested that one needs to be careful with creative ideas. "A lot of good creative ideas do travel well. Some profound emotions work globally. However, one must be careful about local nuances and pay proper attention."

He cited the example of Coca Cola's 'Open Happiness' campaign, which worked well in the US, a culture used to instant gratification. However, it did not do so well in South Europe, where the brand went online to find what defined instant happiness among the people.

Johnson then spoke of how the digital medium allows one to test and learn. "Never before could you selectively target audience and initiate global conversations," he said.

He warned of how technology spreads immediately and a campaign that is successful in 99 countries could go horribly wrong in one region.

To elaborate the point, he used the example of a laser beam game by Adidas, which failed in Japan, with people using the game to target the Japanese emperor's palace.

"It was 'test and learn'. You have to check well before going live," said Johnson.

Towards the end of the discussion, the panellists were asked where the future of brands would lie -- in being global or being localised.

Both Polak and Terruhn agreed that it was imperative for brands to understand the local culture well.

"Use local insights. Hyperlocal makes you super-globally successful," remarked Terruhn.

However, Johnson disagreed, as he noted that there were massive opportunities for a brand on a global level, and in getting things right on a local perspective. There is room for both, he said.