A report in the Advertising Age International section told of the House of Chanel's woes with its global campaigns (AA, Jan. 17). Chanel's problems stem from taking a top-down, manufacturer-centered approach to advertising instead of using a more consumer-oriented approach. Chanel may well market "global" brands, but consumers live, buy and consume in "local" environments. Unless a brand and its advertising are presented in relevant and meaningful ways in the context of these local environments, consumers couldn't care less.
Parker Pen made the same mistake 12 years ago; in the interim, the globalists have suffered many other failures while trying to force-fit square pegs into round holes. Does this imply that using the same advertising concept in diverse multinational markets is impossible? Or that fragrance concepts and advertising campaigns don't travel well across borders? Au contraire! To borrow from Eric Clapton, "It's in the way that you use it."
For a dual-benefit (deodorant and fragrance in one) mass market brand, Impulse Body Spray, Unilever employs the same advertising concept (boy meets girl) in almost every market. At last count, the brand was doing quite well in over 40 countries-primarily due to the fact that the brand concept is functionally unique, and the advertising concept is universally relevant and meaningful, rooted deeply in the human condition.
A few other examples of well-crafted brand and advertising concepts that have worked well across borders:
Gillette's functional superiority/human condition-based multicountry approach for Sensor.
L'Oreal's "It's expensive and I'm worth it" brand position plays equally well worldwide.
Procter & Gamble's Pert Plus/Wash & Go shampoo and conditioner successfully employs convenience and ease-of-use-oriented brand positioning and advertising in widely different countries.
Clinique avoids ambiguity and miscomprehension by employing a minimalist but effective product-as-hero executional approach.
Snuggle fabric softener's brand concept and teddy bear brand property work remarkably well across borders without the straitjacket of a "global" brand name (it's called Kuschelweich in Germany, Coccolino in Italy, Mimosin in France, etc.).
Nescafe is the world's largest-selling brand of coffee because it sells "coffee-ness" and the warmth of the shared moment in its diverse marketing geographies.
The summary point: Marketers like Chanel run into trouble because they're obsessed with creating "global" advertising. They're primarily concerned with standardizing the advertising message-the marketer's stimulus to the consumer. For a long time, marketers have been trying to figure out what advertising does to people-mainly via stimulus-centered research methodologies like recall testing. But in a time when people consume images, maybe we should instead begin figuring out what people do with advertising-how they respond to it, how they use it, how they develop relationships with brands based on their experience with it.
Experienced multinational marketers like Unilever, Gillette and Nestle know that for any given brand and its advertising, eliciting the same response from consumers across borders matters much more than running the same advertising across borders.
These marketers and their agencies have realized that it is possible to use the same brand concept, possibly even the same advertising concept and executional "format" across borders-but the executions must be customized to fit local environments, to enable consumers to relate to and empathize with the advertising. This is not a "global" approach-it's a multinational approach because it recognizes and makes allowances for pluralities across borders. This distinction is not merely semantic-it is primarily philosophical, and one that is critically important from an operational standpoint.
Marketers have always needed advertising agencies to do what they couldn't do themselves-create quality advertising while objectively assessing a brand's needs. The House of Chanel could probably use a dose of objectivity and some sound strategic counsel. Yet the article in AAI quotes a Chanel manager as saying, "Agencies aren't very interesting to Chanel." Well, maybe it's time Chanel got a little more interested in the worldwide agency networks and what they have to offer. Heck, maybe it's time a few agencies got interested in Chanel!
Mr. Banerjee is assistant professor of advertising at Texas Tech University, Lubbock. He previously worked in account management at McCann-Erickson in New York and J. Walter Thompson Co. in Bombay.