Behaviour essay - Creating a sensation

Brands are using global experiences to enhance awareness and affinity, says Jacques De Cock, faculty member at London School of Marketing.

Jacques de Cock is a faculty member at the London School of Marketing
Jacques de Cock is a faculty member at the London School of Marketing

When listening to a brand expert talk about how to market and promote brands across cultures and continents, the recommendations are often one of a balance of opposites. Be consistent but mindful of local sensitivities; be borderless but also local; build a single brand but adapt it to local cultures. That does not provide clear direction of what to do and feels a little bit like truisms and exhortations.

Although very hard and often expensive to do in practice, the building of globally successful brands relies on building narratives, experiences and feelings around four key values. Those four values are trust, respect, ego and belonging.

In essence, trust means: can I rely on the brand to care about me, not to disadvantage me?

Respect typically means: do I believe this brand has unique expertise and competences to be of value to me? Ego is related to a belief that my association with this brand either increases my own sense of wellbeing or enhances my status with regard to others. And finally, belonging is related to the brand and its display indicating to others my inclusion in some specific group of individuals with attributes I have or aspire to have.

If one looks at all successful brands, they have one or more - or even all - of these characteristics at their core. These values and characteristics, although they can manifest themselves in different ways, are as near universal as can be imagined. What a brand focuses on depends to a large extent on its, and its target customers', core requirements.

For example, technology brands such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have a single global persona that fits within the shared values of the technologically savvy urban youth, while luxury and aspirational brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, BMW and Nike build on ego and esteem enhancement from belonging to a select and 'superior' tribe.

In contrast, many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands, such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Danone, build their brands on family, trust and security. But increasingly, with globally shared information via the internet, global experiential and group-rallying events are becoming core to some brands' personas.

Sporting events

This is most noticeably the case for two global sporting events - the Olympic Games and Fifa World Cup. These have been, and increasingly are, marketing 'super events', capturing more than £1bn of spend from many sponsors wanting to establish a more intimate relationship with a global audience of typically young males.

Sport is still one of the most favoured shared global experiences chosen by many brands and covering many sports, including tennis, sailing (Louis Vuitton Cup), Formula One, etc. One brand that has taken this to the next level is Red Bull, which is targeting niche, adrenaline-filled global events such as the X Games, diving, competitive flying and (tongue-in-cheek) soap-box racing. This activity culminated with the space-diving Stratos event when Felix Baumgartner broke the highest and fastest freefall record, capturing unique and memorable pictures.

Such experiences rally a tight global group together and enables them to have a huge presence in a segment they are not only supporting but also creating. This makes their brand pre-eminent not only in that tight segment but also in the broader market.

The internet and ease of global communication and interaction is creating many global tribes. For instance, there is much more in common between IT specialists or gamers in Colombo and London than there is between them and farmers in their respective countries.

Similarly, focusing across Europe on the large urban population in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Milan, Geneva and Zurich enables the creation of global but highly targeted advertising. This means companies can personalise their brand development and embed it more subtly through experiences and brand ambassadors.

The trend supporting the targeted experiential marketing approach is of increasing importance in social media and among key influencers such as superstar bloggers or vloggers, for example Chinese vlogger Papi Jiang, who recently sold an ad slot for $3.4m.

This provides brand owners with the chance to create or use globally targeted events and experiences that will appeal and attract these key influencers, and spark positive and excited chatter over the social media airwaves.

A brand known for its global campaigns, Coca-Cola, created an early example with 'Open Happiness' from 2009 until 2011, where a truck drove around countries distributing the beverage and gifts to the delight of all, including the friendship machine that needed friends to collaborate to obtain a two-for-one Coke. All under the tagline 'Open Happiness with a Coke bottle'. On YouTube you can see the many guises in which this campaign was adapted.

Linking to themes

Another FMCG brand with creative global advertising ideas is Procter & Gamble, which used its association with the Olympic Games in 2012 to create a global 'Thank You Mom' campaign where athletes who were going to compete thanked their mum for the support they received. This plays directly into the support, trust and family themes so important to these brands, and ensured that P&G obtained more media attention during the Games than other sports-oriented brands such as Nike.

Some brands are creating specific global experiences to target selected customer groups: the aforementioned Nike, for example, promoting women's fitness (and the need to wear cool kit) with its Nike Women Races. Another example would be Microsoft targeting children and tempting them away from WhatsApp with its Microsoft Skype-a-Thon. Others, meanwhile, promote a single event globally, such as the Google I/O software development conference, by involving key influencers in the event covering all regions and segments.

At a local level, some campaigns show that they do not need to be complex, just well thought out - such as the 'Probably The Best Poster' beer-dispensing campaign by Carlsberg on London's Brick Lane. The location, timing, PR and social media made this a great success, and cleverly bypassed the ban on alcohol advertising because the media were reporting news.

Comment below to let us know what you think.

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