Global Advertising: A new solution from an old insight

In hardly more than five years since Thomas Friedman declared that The World Is Flat, global online social networks, digital media and mobile technologies have become familiar parts of our daily life.  Instant access to information, unprecedented connectivity to people in every corner of the world, amazing new work efficiencies through telecommunications: One could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve truly become a “global village.”

But let’s not confuse media with message.

In fact, the very same technologies that seem to have shrunk our world have also accentuated—perhaps have even furthered—cultural differences. Think “tribes”: individuals united by common interests or passions, even across languages and national borders. Food geeks. Justin Bieber fans. Up-and-coming entrepreneurs linking Mumbai and Minneapolis. Now add back what was already in the mix—different languages, cultures, national borders—and we have a powerful reminder that even in the age of banner ads and satellite TV, media efficiencies do not guarantee message effectiveness.

What does this mean for global advertising? The last 10 years have seen substantial contributions by Geert Hofstede and others to the study of global marketing and advertising strategies. Much of the discussion has focused on the business practices of global advertising: in essence, attaining the optimal media mix and distribution at the lowest cost within a set of internal (organizational) and external (industry) considerations. But attention has also been given to the fundamental communication process in global advertising: in particular, the art of creating messages that will resonate with audience members across languages and cultures. Are we to the point where this can be done with standardized content, or must it be localized? Ironically, the spread of digital media and mobile technologies has brought no clear answer, since the unifying effect of instantaneous reach in a flat world is offset by growing tribal fragmentation enabled by those very platforms.

In the 1930s, adman Kenneth Goode urged advertisers not simply to differentiate their product by the effect it would produce (“our mattress will let you sleep better”), but to suggest the effects of the effect: “You’ll be healthier from sleeping better on our mattress.” If this is familiar ground, the question remains: How often do we forgo a deeper message strategy while we fixate on media?

FedEx put Goode’s effects of the effect into full play in its “Changing World” campaign. Intended for large and small customers alike, Changing World is not just about the immediate benefits of overnight shipment delivery. Instead, it proposes the much greater and long-lasting benefits of access to global business opportunities in a changing world, supported by a world-class logistics partner. In future posts, I hope to explore the value of deeper messaging in a “flat and fragmented world.” In the meantime, you can view the FedEx Changing World campaign at here.

By Pete Healy, Vice President – Account Planning at b2b agency, gyro

Follow Pete on Twitter @PeteHealy