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Sure, the Global Economy Is Challenging Right Now, but These Companies Have Found Ways to Make Their Brand Messages Work Harder to Reach Consumers

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NEW YORK ( -- It's surprising what you can learn about local marketing from the parochial approach of South African chicken chain Nando's as it expands into three continents. Or how customer service can be the differentiator that makes an upstart brand like Brazilian airline Azul. Or how to reach rural markets in China and India from computer giant Lenovo and a local bank in India.

These marketers are those included in the World's Hottest Brands, an Ad Age Insights global report that tells the stories of 30 brands succeeding on a global, regional and local level. And among the 30 are three brands based in China (Lenovo, Li Ning, Tencent Holdings); two from Japan (Tsubaki, Uniqlo) and two from India (Tata Nano, Fullerton India Credit Company).

World's Hottest Brands

World's Hottest Brands

The goal was not to create a list of the largest global marketers or rank the brands that contribute the most to their company's market value -- plenty of others tackle those lofty questions. Rather, we sought to chronicle the brands percolating at the local and regional level; sometimes great marketing lessons can happen in your backyard, sometimes halfway around the world.

But talk about a tough time to identify the world's hottest brands. Categories from banking to automotive to retail were slammed as unemployment went up and consumer spending took a nosedive. Some marketers got by on the brand equity they've spent years building, others had to find a way to create demand for their products.

Chinese and Indian marketers move into rural markets
China and India both represent huge untapped markets for many brands, getting products into the hands of customers that live in the more remote parts of the globe continues to be a challenge.

Lenovo, a global player that sells computers to people in 160 countries, is featured in the regional category because its main strength this past year was PC sales at home-particularly in China's third-, fourth- and fifth-tier cities and towns. Opening up distribution in those cities means Lenovo now has a potential market of about 700 million consumers looking to buy their first computers.

Lenovo's "PCs for Rural China" program presents feature films in more than 3,000 villages across China, usually at no charge to the audience. At each screening, movie-goers can visit an interactive Lenovo PC Bazaar to learn more about PCs, experiment with product demonstrations and pick up brochures. Lenovo shows spots created by Ogilvy & Mather, Beijing, before each film. Now Lenovo is eager to take what it's learned in China and tackle India.

Fullerton India Credit Company had a similar challenge. Small business owners in rural areas were among its best prospects for its loans, but reaching those consumers was a challenge as many are cut off from major media.

The solution? Go to them. In a program dubbed, "Gram Sabha" or "village meeting," each local branch manager was responsible for spreading the word. Branded vans, which seat 10 to 12 people, were outfitted with a TV and DVD and, most importantly, air conditioning, a luxury in those areas. Potential customers sit in the vans and watch 30-minute films about how Fullerton India has affected village economies through micro-finance. Through this initiative, Fullerton created a base of more than 600,000 customers in the past three years, with 50% categorized as "first-time" borrowers with financial institutions.

This latest Ad Age Insights 66-page, digital global report includes 30 case studies examining brand strategies as well as 32 videos of ads and viral content. The full report, as well as a preview, is available at

Another India brand that made the list, the Tato Nano, is billed as India's first "car for everyone." Costing just $2,000 and only 10-feet-long bumper-to-bumper, the Nano is small, cheap and fuel efficient, and could just as easily be billed as a car for the next century. It already has copycats.

At the Beijing auto show in April, one of China's leading domestic carmakers, Geely Automobile, is developing a Nano rival, the Geely IG concept vehicle, that will cost just $2,144 when it goes on sale in 2012.

Technology, of course, is inescapable today, which is why four internet companies made the list, one of which is China's Tencent Holdings is the company behind, an instant messaging service with 522.9 million active user accounts, and, a search engine poised to explode now that Google has withdrawn from China.

Major marketers such as Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo have already tailored campaigns for Retail has been another challenged category, but the four retailers included in this list-H&M, IKEA, Tesco, and Uniqlo-have each figured out how to make their operations work across borders, no easy feat. And what they each have in common is the same brand promise, quality goods at lower prices.

While it's hard to argue or beat a brand premise that promises the best product and the best price, some brands manage to get consumers to pay more because of an inherent good associated with their name. Brazil's Havaianas has taken the lowly flip-flop and turned it into a fashion sensation.

Nike has surrounded its athletic shoes and apparel with an aura of excellence by aligning with top athletes. It then takes those alliances and does innovative and extraordinary marketing around them, like the Chalkbot it built for Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France. A tradition of the race is for fans to write encouraging messages for riders in chalk along the route. Nike built a machine that would receive text messages from people around the world, and the Chalkbot printed the messages on the road, and then sent a picture to post online.

China's Li Ning is studying Nike, and building its very own aura. The company was founded and named after China's most famous Olympian, but now it's aligning with top Chinese and American athletes and even cheekily opened up a store in Nike's hometown of Portland.

Planning expansion
Another brand from Asia is deliberately staying local, but by doing so, it is outselling package goods giants Procter & Gamble and Unilever in its home market. Shiseido's hair care brand, Tsubaki, decided to embrace its consumers by declaring Japanese women are beautiful. Most beauty brands in Japan typically feature western models. Tsubaki, a line of shampoo and conditioners that use red camellia flower oil as a key ingredient, was pitched as more effective for Japanese women's hair. Sales soared.

The promise of branding is that it can take a commodity product, and imbue it with qualities that make consumers choose it over any other. That's not a new idea, but it is always heartening to see when it really works. In Argentina, a line of pastas and soups branded Mama Lucchetti were given a brand makeover by agency Madre, Buenos Aires, and sales took off. A catchy jingle, cute animated characters, and a great consumer insight add up to a near perfect case study in branding. Two of the global brands on the list, Coca-Cola and McDonald's, are megabrands that don't take anything for granted, reinventing and refreshing as they go to maintain global dominance. These two are a master class in branding.

Despite economic downturns and increased competition, the power of a well managed brand is enduring. The digital report, which includes 30 in-depth case studies and 32 videos, is now on sale at

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