Global Branding and Media Planning, Market by Market

MPG CEO Maria Luisa Francoli Plaza on Crossing Cultural Barriers

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For our latest quick Q&A with a media leader, we asked Barcelona native Maria Luisa Francoli Plaza, global CEO of MPG and Havas Media North America, how brands and media planners should approach cultural differences even as the web brings the world closer.

Maria Luisa Francoli Plaza
Maria Luisa Francoli Plaza

Advertising Age: When did you first come to the U.S.? How has it compared with Spain?

Maria Luisa Francoli Plaza: I have been here two times to live, from 1984 to 1991 and the second time from 2007 to now.

When I came here the first time, there was a huge gap between Spain and the U.S. We had just arrived in democracy in Spain. In terms of lifestyle, Spain was still a very closed country compared to the rest of Europe, so it was a shock to come here with all the opportunities and advancements. The TV here had 63 channels instead of one.

When I came back in 2007, the shock was that it wasn't a shock. There are certain areas, mobile advertising and mobile infrastructure, where Europe has been more advanced.

Ad Age : How do you deal with cultural barriers for brands, and what advice would you give to up-and-comers in media buying about cultural barriers?

Ms. Francoli Plaza: We are very grassroots and have local offices and local people in many countries to understand the local consumers. But you also need to understand best practices that work across different markets. In our work with Dannon [under France-based Group Danone], we work with all the local teams to make sure they understand the philosophy of Dannon regardless of the market. We have a disciplined best-practice exchange program each month for the local offices where they challenge each other and learn together.

Ad Age : How does that work manifest in the marketing?

Ms. Francoli Plaza: A few years ago, we did a program for Dannon water in Mexico that used a lot of activation outdoors and it worked well, so we used the same type of program with the in-the-street and outdoor advertising, and a lot more digital, too, for interaction in Spain, Portugal and France, all from the program that originated in Mexico. Another example is with Dannon's Activia brand where we did an experiment with a magazine in France and then a TV commercial ran in France where the mother and daughter had the magazine in hand and mentioned it in the TV ad. That did well and we exported it to other markets with different versions in Mexico and Spain.

Ad Age : The internet has made everything global, but what are the challenges in brand building globally?

Ms. Francoli Plaza: With digital advertising and banners you serve to who you want, and with search you can manage the search results. But what is more challenging is the content that lives on the internet. We tell clients they need to be clear why the content is there, what is the purpose, who do you want to find it, how can you help them find it and you want to make sure it resonates in the most positive way possible.

Ad Age : What exactly has your global perspective helped you to understand about media buying and planning in the U.S.?

Ms. Francoli Plaza: When you have seen the same activity -- media planning and buying -- being done in many different ways there is always an idea or a piece you can take from another country to this country to improve what we do.

Ad Age : What has it been it like to grow up and to live in Barcelona?

Ms. Francoli Plaza: Barcelona is my hometown, and something that was a very historic moment was when we had the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. Barcelona is one of the cities that has benefited most from the games, from the infrastructure and hotels to the change in attitude. Barcelona is now one of the primary cities in Europe for young people to come study and work, and we gained a lot of housing and development and restaurants. For me, it also means in the last several years we have direct flights from Barcelona to New York.

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