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IBM's recent naming of a single ad agency to implement a unified global marketing strategy may be just the beginning of a computer industry trend toward standardized advertising campaigns.

New research among personal computer and software companies shows a definite trend toward global standardization in ad strategies.

Harvard professor Theodore Levitt created a fuss in the marketing world in 1983 by saying the globalization of markets had arrived and multinational companies could reap significant benefits by marketing world brands supported by standardized campaigns.

Levitt's many detractors appear regularly to say emphatically that global advertising campaigns don't work and remind all about the pitfalls of not heeding local culture and other barriers to standardization.

That may be true for many product categories, but high tech products are purchased and used in the same manner everywhere, are most often standardized and utilitarian, share a common technical language and use information appeals.

Seventy-five global companies were surveyed by mail during the fourth quarter of 1993. Thirteen percent of respondents said they currently use a standardized ad strategy; 41% use the local approach and the majority-56%-use pattern standardization, the popular "think global, act local" strategy.

Importantly, respondents who use the standardized format said they changed their current strategy within the last three years. Two-thirds of pattern standardization users also made a change to their current strategy during the same period. Of those companies using local strategy and local execution, only 19% chose that strategy within the last three years.

Twenty-eight percent of the companies said they would be changing strategy this year and said that company emphasis on creating a worldwide identity and brand image was the most important reason for the change.

This is consistent with remarks made by Abby Kohnstamm, IBM VP of corporate marketing. In a Reuters article she said: "There were too many different presentations. We needed a singular approach. Under Ogilvy [& Mather] we will emphasize ads that talk about the brand and the company." A unified worldwide image is also the reason behind Microsoft's search for an agency to handle its global branding program, a search that ended in the selection of Wieden & Kennedy.

Further evidence of a trend toward standardization campaigns came from responses to the statement: "A standardized strategy is the best advertising strategy for global use by high technology companies." Companies were evenly divided between those who agreed with the statement and those who disagreed. Considering that just 13% currently use the standardization model, the response may be a precursor to future computer industry advertising strategy changes.

What about those factors that might constrain a high technology company from using a standardized campaign? Cultural differences and marketing strategy were of paramount importance to respondents. Organizational structure and internal politics, however, also were frequently mentioned.

Those companies that used standardized advertising share a few common traits. They were primarily centralized and used U.S.-based international agencies to ensure uniformity of strategy and message. Pattern standardization companies were most often decentralized and used networks of international agencies. As you might guess, companies using the local strategy were highly decentralized and most often used agencies in each country for both creative and media to ensure cultural differences and other local factors were addressed.

As product advantages disappear ever more quickly, more companies like IBM and Microsoft may turn to longer term global brand building using standardized campaigns to develop long-term brand equity and world brand dominance.

Mr. Nelson heads Nelson & Co., a marketing and communications consultancy.

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