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The newly promoted global advertising manager for this brand of toothpaste for children was puzzled: The highly successful ad campaign which had boosted sales in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia was not well received by the folks in the Bangkok office. "Too American," they kept repeating....So he showed them the French and the U.K. versions of the campaign. Still, they were uneasy and, as politely as their Thai education allowed, they were telling him that the campaign would not work in their country....It had to do with the "pat on the head" mnemonic device which was at the center of all the executions. That scene, which closed all commercials in the campaign, was designed to express the parent's appreciation for the good brushing the child had done with the toothpaste specially designed to appeal to children. But one does not touch the head of another person in many Asian countries.

The ad manager thought his hopes of creating a global brand, with a global ad campaign, were vanishing in Asia.


A global brand is one which is perceived to reflect the same set of values around the world. In the example of the children's toothpaste, the "pat on the head" is only an execution device to express the parent's appreciation for the child's action and corresponds to a set of brand values such as: "Likes children and helps them to be more self-reliant in taking care of their hygiene; is appreciative of the concern parents have for their children's hygiene," etc. If, in a particular market, a communication device does not work as well as in other markets, it can (and should) be replaced with one that communicates the intended set of values or "brand character" that forms the backbone of a global brand strategy.

Branding, be it global or domestic, can be explained with the following metaphor: Long-term brand loyalty is akin to getting the consumer to marry a brand and requires that the marketer provide the same set of information one needs to decide upon marrying a person, i.e., information about the physical attributes, the style and the character of the brand.

Physical attributes (e.g., how well does the product perform, how competitive is its price, etc.) may require some adaptation to local market conditions and culture: A U.S. laundry detergent (which does not contain perborate) may not satisfy a European housewife, used to washing her laundry at near-boiling temperatures; green monochrome computer monitors may not satisfy the German hacker, who prefers an amber screen. Physical attraction is in great part determined by culture: Beauty-enhancing tribal markings might not make you more attractive in Peoria....

Style (i.e., how the physical-attributes message is delivered) is even more rooted in culture. Germans, whose ad culture grew from magazines, want hard facts. Latin cultures are inclined to imagery and may resist hard sell. Asians are sensitive to symbolism, Britons to humor, etc.

There is some truth to these generalities, even though the rules are often successfully broken.

Character communication is the key element of branding and the backbone of a global branding strategy. It requires an absolute consistency of purpose which one can only achieve by having, at the onset of the communication planning, a very clear idea of the set of values to be linked to the brand. A McDonald's commercial from the U.S., Germany, Brazil or Japan is readily recognized as a McDonald's commercial, even though it may have been produced locally, and by a different ad agency. It will consistently convey some or all of the values (service, friendliness, understanding of family life, etc.) that are attached to the company.

Global marketers need to first write a thorough and sustainable brand strategy that lists the character traits intended for the brand. Then they should set up an organization that can tactfully direct, teach and evaluate the brand's communication to ensure consistency while at the same time preserving the autonomy (and thereby the quality) of local management.

After this they may give themselves a big pat on the back. Except, of course, for the back of the British manager who might be offended by this excessive familiarity.

Mr. Chevron is a principal with Kuczmarski & Associates, a Chicago consulting firm.

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