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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Investigating ‘Globish’ - a simplified form of English

The drive to make adverts understandable around the world by using a reduced palette of words and images is diluting the message, so a brand champion is needed to maintain the spark

Are we all turning 'Globish'? And doing this at the expense of our brands? When some of the trends in international brand marketing are considered, I fear we are. And my mission here is to get your support to change this.

Globish, for those who have not come across the term, is the English language in 1,500 key words. It was developed by non-English natives, led by a Frenchman called Jean-Paul Nerriere, to help make international business communications more effective, in a climate where global business teams increasingly comprise non-English natives and a billion people around the world need a consistent language to conduct effective commercial transactions. 

The argument is that the more English becomes an international language, the more it will move away from Anglo-Saxon ownership. We are experiencing 'language trickle-down' and the limitations of 1,500 words (rather than the full 260,000 of the English language) can actually be useful in aiding communication and understanding, rather than inhibiting it. There is even a Globish Text Scanner that judges whether text passes the Globish test. Simplicity to aid understanding. Compelling stuff.

And then we are told that the vocabulary of Generation 'Y' (the leaders of the future) is shrinking, with some business forums predicting a vocabulary of 1,500 words may even be a mark of eloquence in times to come.

Similarly, in the pursuit of simplicity to achieve a global solution for our brands, my fear is that global pharma marketing is in danger of doing for the creative visual language what Globish has done for words: dumb it down.

Unfortunately, for all of us, Globish is not the answer to all things written or verbal. Imagine telling a story or writing a poem with only 1,500 words for reference. I do not think I would want to read that poem, let alone remember it and share it.

I may use Globish for basic business transactions, but not for persuasive selling or creating stories that are remembered and drive behaviour change. Here you need to create communication that is evocative, meaningful and memorable, that effectively cuts through the basic information clutter of our age and gets the customer to act.

And, visually, do we really want only to go the way of the common (lowest?) denominator, working with a reduced colour palette of just a few hundred shades, preferably the reds and the blues, down from the 16 million colours on the Mac spectrum, all in the name of simplicity?

We are in danger of watering down our communication in the name of global democracy, or should that read 'in the name of Globish'? So I and others at the Health Communications Council of the European Association of Communications Agencies are on a mission to keep the iconic and effective creative idea alive in global marketing and provide global insights, ideas and resources that build brands and do not just tick Globish boxes.

Worrying trends
Why do I say this? Because some worrying trends are emerging:


• Our agencies are increasingly being asked to find a symbol, a visual design, that is recognisable the world over – the 100 per cent recognition often being treated as more important than the quality of the idea and how it builds, or otherwise, brand equity with customers. Remember that creative effectiveness is not just about recognition, it is about actively engaging customers' hearts and minds with your brand.

What a pharma brand desperately needs is a brand guardian in the global team to fight for it and help it navigate the globe. This should be someone who knows the brand's true equity, what the brand can and should stand for and who will represent strong and appropriate creative leadership for the brand. And this guardian will ensure no creative concept falls short of the brand's total value proposition and that the core creative idea pervades all aspects of the brand communication process, across all channels.


• Some global brand leaders are passing responsibility to local markets to decide on the creative concept, in the name of democracy. This is often in the form of a Eurovision-type contest, in which how many votes is the name of the game. Plus, these votes are often made in isolation without discussion. This is almost the equivalent of a Globish Visual Scanner – to check if we have passed the Globish test. Or am I being too harsh?

Do not misunderstand me; we in network agencies want to work more closely with local market brand leaders to build stronger global brands. But it would be so much more valuable and respectful to get local brand leaders' input early, not at the end stages. Their input is needed before pitch, at the insight and ideation stage, to share their thinking with the insights we have generated via our local teams, rather than having to guess their views at pitch without having heard their opinion. Indeed, many request for proposal (RFP) protocols do not allow any access to the local markets pre-pitch. This wastes the opportunity to get multicultural input to make the brand as strong as possible for its global customers. 


• We are increasingly battling with many-paged requests for information (RFIs) and excel spreadsheets, to explain ourselves and get to the 'starting block' for a global brand campaign opportunity. But we are increasingly left with the feeling that we are not being asked the right questions.

The RFIs quite rightly ask about our global strength. But the requests too often focus on where the pins are on the map and their size, with a view to assessing global capabilities for roll-out. However, in reality, we often work only as a global hub office on a campaign, to master only. The multiple pins on the map are rarely bought these days. Increasingly, we are being asked to govern the global brand planning process for strategy, creative and integrated channel communication. So, maybe the RFIs should be asking us other global questions?

Would it not be better to ask how we build global brands, not just how we roll them out? Perhaps ask about our methodologies for brand planning that embrace global and local needs, how we gain the 'glocal' insights, how we trend watch, build multicultural creative ideas and how we work with a multinational global team council to embed this idea? In summary, how the agency works upstream for a brand to build it, before we ever get to tactical roll-out.

I would also lobby that RFIs should interrogate the creative ideation process and be sure that all concepts developed are created by international teams, not just English natives in the US or London. This will ensure that all concepts ultimately presented to the local market leaders are innately global from the outset. Teams will then be choosing the best of the best, not the one that may just be adequate.

So, in summary, whether your corporate style is 'central command and control' or a more glocal balance of responsibility, your brand needs a global community at the centre that always has a glocal point of view, comprising a mix of your people and ours that brings fresh thinking and insights from over the hill, to enrich the cultural creative pool continually, to best develop the global equity for your brand. The problem with Globish is that it just dumps chlorine in that pool. 

And a brand deserves a clear brand champion appointed to every global team to lead the global community and always be fighting for the best and against the compromise solution. The brand champion will ensure we do not just shout ever louder about what we want to sell from our closed gated community, while becoming increasingly deaf to what customers want to buy. 

Otherwise we are all in danger of 'speaking' a very limited visual Globish, of no interest or desire to stakeholders, whether they are internal local markets, global central teams or external customers, and therefore, ultimately, of little value to your brand.

Article by
Gloria Gibbons

president EMEA, AP and Latina, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide and a member of the Health Communications Council, EACA

9th February 2012

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