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Feeling Worldly Wise

Global branding will intensify as long as pharma continues to see the world as one place

Nothing is guaranteed to make the creatives despair more than the word 'global'. You know the score: the late nights spent poring over the brief, the tutting from the observers, like an art critic at a gallery, as the big day draws near. Then comes the polishing, preening and practising for that short moment when you lay bare your emotions, presenting your latest masterpiece to the world.

And then the wait... The client finally calls. Did we? Didn't we? Could we possibly have? We did! We're heroes, every one of us, the thrill of victory echoing around the agency. Then a brand manager welcomes you aboard: "So when can you come in to get briefed on the global campaign?" Pardon?

In these situations, I tell myself that it doesn't matter that it's a global campaign and that I might dislike it. But actually it does, and I might. It's not that I blame anyone for the Frankenstein concept that awaits. I've built these brand master plans myself. You create a piece of magic in the agency, something everyone is excited and pleased about, but two months later when, quite rightly, all markets have had the chance to cock their leg and mark their territory (a bit of fuzzy-felt headline swapping and a run past the G8 summit), something has been lost along the way.

At this point I think it's worth mentioning that I am in total support of global branding. However, the issue gets more complicated when it doesnít stop at branding but moves on to the tactical implementation. The two areas can often get confused and it can end up hideously mismatched in some of the territories.

What we all want is a globally recognised identity for our brands. That, coupled with a locally adapted campaign to address the needs of a local market, would be ideal.

One global branding campaign I saw recently was very good. It was strong, clear and well executed. Had it been the only such execution out there, in that style with those elements, it would have been near perfect. Unfortunately it wasn't, and the other campaign was for one of their main competitors. I genuinely felt the pain of the creatives at that agency ñ in fact of the whole brand team.

Now I look favourably upon a quick, easy and cheap solution to a problem too. I love a takeaway curry; just not every night.

Yet, sometimes you want to indulge yourself and cook up something a little different; custom made and lovingly prepared for that someone special. This is a creative need. The need to please, to perform. Rarely does 'global' let us do this fully, even if we are able to create the master plan ourselves rather than just apply it.

It's not just the creatives and agency as a whole that can feel short-changed by a global campaign, it can be disappointing for the whole brand team too. For a global brand to work tactically at the local level, there must be flexibility. This doesn't mean 'free to do what you want as long as the logo's on it', but a good brand-building framework of positioning, look, feel, graphics and messaging that can allow for fine-tuning down on the ground in western Samoa, Germany or Basingstoke.

In your mind I guess you're picturing me as a bohemian little upstart, fresh from art school, who knows little of the real world (I have less hair now, but do smell better). Yet, for more than 20 years now I've seen the introduction of, and move towards, global branding by most of the larger pharma companies, and I have to say that on paper it makes a lot of sense.

I'm sure that there are many reasons for this, not least the big four ñ economy, consistency, control and speed ñ and it does work. I think it's called rationalisation. Let's take each one in turn...

I read a number of articles on the subject before writing this one, and one of them presented a very good argument for the cost-savings that can be achieved by creating a global brand.

I wholeheartedly agree with the premise. However, I have never seen the reverse figures that would, I'm sure, show how much increased revenue a brand might, or might not, achieve by individually-crafted, targeted campaigns that maximise their potential in different markets.

The point often made is that those in our beloved audience are now global players ñ at a conference, on the internet, etc. Yet surely in their own world they prescribe or recommend in their own country ñ not at conferences or on the internet.

It's good to have the comfort of knowing that the brand you use at home is the same brand used across the world, but just how important that is on the brand build-o-meter I really don't know. So I applaud the cost-saving, but is there a price?

I jump up and down with excitement at the thought of the grand master plan, where a brand has a clear consistent identity. This to me is the main benefit of 'global', but, having both created and executed campaigns, there is one critical component that sadly is often missed out: flexibility in the tactical roll-out of a campaign.

We all know about language issues and cultural sensitivities, but when it boils down to it, a great campaign has to be within a framework that individual territories can craft and apply.

This isn't solely to cater for individual market needs; more importantly, it allows for internal buy-in. Brands are internal and external, so buy-in is as important as getting the message across externally. A one-size-fits-all diktat will result in woolly communication (in an effort not to offend anyone in any territory), poor creativity, appalling use of time (as everyone tries to fight the ruling) and, more importantly, a lacklustre performance from the reps. Sorry, but a rigid 'one-size-only', rarely fits anyone well.

The reality is that no matter what profession you're in, there will be the brilliant and the not-so-brilliant. So while applying rigid guidelines or an online two-way resource/reporting system may be the only way to keep an eye on those little scallywags in the eastern Mongolian office, I'm not so sure that the great marketers of the primary markets are that comfortable at being potentially downgraded to great implementers.

We all want to work on a globally-recognised brand, but no-one wants to work on one where the creative is already done.

Well that's easy. Time is the new money, so this can only be a good thing for all of us as long as the trade off isn't quality.

So what does all this mean to the dejected creative? Well, global is here to stay. Thus far, it has been the trait of blockbusters and, more often, primary market players, but as the push swings to the niche areas and the focus is more on secondary, it is becoming apparent that the global campaigns for these brands are struggling to make the one-size-fits-all work on every level.

Someone once said that the trouble with advertising is that only 50 per cent of it works. The problem is you don't know which 50 per cent. Let's just say that global can sometimes make that a little more clear. Pleasing 70 per cent of the people 70 per cent of the time is a fine line to me. Truly great creativity can move mountains, yet it is delicate, exact in its balance between emotion and function. It is complicated in its construction, but smooth and clear in its delivery. If crafted correctly, it should reward the viewer and leave a long-lasting, pleasant taste in the mouth.

As we all know, what drives a therapeutic area in each country can vary enormously, and in a highly evidence-based market the local need for tailored messaging can only increase. So the need for the more ingenious and individual approach is unavoidable. The creatives need to sprinkle their magic dust even further now ñ not just in advertising but across med comms too. The need for an integrated approach is vital to ensure that a sharply targeted, consistent message is received by our customers at a local level. Ideally, this will still include a modicum of global 'wrapping paper' identity and guidance on strategy, but from here on it does feel like placing a foot in both camps is the way forward.

The need for creatives will always be there, but what's required from them will differ. It's time to stop resting on our crayons and dictionaries, as a good concept is not enough any more. We need to adapt to the ever-changing politics, guidelines and codes of practice; pull our ideas off the layout pad and weave them through the advertising, around the med ed and pop them out through PR. Creatives need to be creative strategists now too.

With or without global branding, we still have the opportunity to shine. Clients want a fully unified voice for their brand and only a fully integrated approach can deliver that. Much as I would love the credit for that to be the creative departmentís alone, it is not. It is everyone's responsibility to make it happen.

On the basis that most major areas in life are cyclical ñ the stock market, the weather, wars, my boss' wardrobe ñ will there come a day when all brands are marketed globally? I don't know, but if it happens, one bright spark will say, "hey, I have an idea ñ let's make a really tight and finely-tuned campaign specifically for our market, to blow the competition out of the water..."

There are a lot of very talented agencies, with brilliantly gifted teams, just waiting to be given the chance to please you. So before they all slope off back to the consumer world in despair, grab them, stroke them and connect with them, and they may just yet be able to turn that Frankenstein youíve been handed back into a prince you can be proud of.

The author
Marcus Perry is the creative director at Huntsworth Health (, a multi-national communications group

2nd September 2008


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