Global activations: Boundless ideas

Brands and agencies are extending their reach with activations that straddle the continents. Georgi Gyton looks at the pitfalls and rewards.

Space recently activated the Uefa Euro 2016 Trophy Tour experience
Space recently activated the Uefa Euro 2016 Trophy Tour experience

With the world seemingly growing ever smaller, the idea of a global campaign may sound like a logical one to explore. And it certainly seems to be something that more brands and agencies are looking at, judging by the comments of many in the industry. However, it is not something that necessarily works for all, and globally integrated campaigns, and agencies for that matter, can face challenges when it comes to implementation.

Nick Adams, managing director at Sense, says that from his agency's perspective, it very much comes down to the brand and the client. "Sometimes a global strategy doesn't work," he warns. "For example, how UK consumers reacted to brands such as Mentos and Chupa Chups - who we've done activations for in the past - is very different to elsewhere in the world, while the work we have recently been doing with The Economist works as part of a global strategy."

That being said, Sense does not activate all of The Economist's experiential work globally. "Affiliations and partnerships are also a trend," Adams explains. "We helped The Economist find a Sense-like version of an agency in the US because we wouldn't have been able to turn our hand to that scale of activity." Adams says these partnerships are becoming a more acceptable proposition for clients, and they enable an agency to then go to them with a global offering, with specialist agencies, such as The Network One in Covent Garden, providing these services.

For Lightblue Worldwide, which has offices in Dubai, Cape Town and Glasgow, global brand campaigns are common in the markets in which it works. "For worldwide consistency of brand communication, as well as a tighter strategic direction, they have their obvious benefits", says Craig Borthwick, client services director at the agency.

"In some key cities there is the luxury of a majority English-speaking population, but that's not always the case. In fact, almost all the work we do outside the UAE involves translation to varying extents," Borthwick explains.

"In an age where a brand's clear communication is more important than ever, to ensure we deliver an effective ROI it's imperative that we speak to consumers in their language. That comes down to hitting the correct demographic with the right message, with a close eye on local dialects," he says. "Teenagers in Riyadh, for example, will in many instances communicate with their peers in a different manner as those in say Casablanca or Cairo, and we need to be responsive to that."

Couple these issues with cultural sensitivities and varying consumer behaviour, as well as the requirement for local agencies to refine the communications of a global campaign, and the language used is critical for overall success. "This can sometimes present a consideration to shift away from global alignment into locally developed campaigns. Despite being less common, we have seen it recently with a women's fitness campaign to be rolled out across the MENA region," Borthwick adds.

Agency challenges

But it's not just brands that are looking to extend their global reach - a number of agencies have had the same idea. However, Adams warns that sometimes relationships between colleagues don't exist further than an extra name on a contact list. There are also other challenges that come with extending globally, including the need to co-ordinate large teams that are in different time zones and may speak different languages.

Invnt has offices across the US as well as the UK. The brand communications company believes that as we live in a world that is increasingly connected, brands can find great benefit in presenting a unified, consistent message across multiple markets. Invnt director of marketing Sally-Anne Andrew says these types of campaigns, when done well, not only lead to great efficiencies, but can also be a tool for building alignment across the globe.

As the lines dividing countries and cultures continue to blur, the benefits for agencies like Invnt, with offices worldwide, is that "brands doing business all over the globe benefit from an agency with that same capacity", according to Andrew. "We have a lot of experience working with global brands that have offices and locations spread across different geographies. We've seen first-hand the kind of challenges that can arise, but we've also learnt how to circumvent those kinds of challenges."

Andrew says most global companies break up their business operations into large geographical regions, although one exception is the field of marketing and communications. "If the aim is to present a globally consistent brand, message, voice, personality and image, the regional structure can begin to work against that very aim," she says. "Often, different regions employ their own marketing, event marketing and brand communications agencies, as well as ad agencies. While this is explained away as enabling the creative product of those agencies to be more 'regionally relevant', the actual result is very often an inconsistent and diluted global brand presence and story."

Andrew references the agency's work with a major automotive brand as an example of 'doing it the right way'. Initially there was some resistance to change the way they had been used to working, but the global brand, marketing and communications teams had agreed that the current regional structure was creating inconsistencies in terms of worldwide brand presence and story, and so looked to take on a single agency to handle all of its major press events and product launches globally.

As the chosen agency, Invnt formed an alliance with the brand's newly created global overseer of above-the-line marketing, and engaged with the different regional teams. "This helped them to understand that we valued their knowledge and insight about their particular region," explains Andrew. "We presented ourselves as a collaborator and partner."

A wider reach

Some brands who may not have previously thought about creating globally integrated campaigns may well do now, says Adams. "The world is getting smaller, and social media and amplification techniques are making a global reach more possible."

David Atkinson, managing partner at Space, says that while he believes there has been an increase in globally integrated campaigns, they have always been present, particularly when it comes to larger brands. The agency has worked on campaigns for the likes of Heineken, Birra Moretti and recently activated the Uefa Euro 2016 Trophy Tour experience.

"There is greater pressure on brands to make clear their purpose, their reason for existence and the role they can play in people's lives," Atkinson says, something which can be best defined at a global level as "consistent, stable and purposeful". "The brand and its purpose can then have a robust template that is carried out across geographies and operating companies. The better defined the purpose, the better the brand can be translated into different channels, markets, disciplines and to different audiences."

Atkinson says this has given rise to an international toolkit. It sees lead agencies create an umbrella idea, including how to translate into different disciplines, and offer guidance on elements such as design principles and ambassador scripts, which can be put together into an easy-to-follow guide, or toolkit, for their international colleagues and agencies.

"There are some very strong commercial benefits for this kind of campaign," Atkinson argues. "Firstly, it requires less investment in the higher agency costs, such as idea creation and conceptualisation. When one idea is translated worldwide, costs can be controlled from one global pot, and then each market contributes to the communications in their own market. This creates better ownership of market-by-market costs and effectiveness, media and executions.

"It's a highly effective and proven model for the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, P&G and many other large blue-chip companies," he adds. However, this doesn't mean there aren't risks. The creative idea could be watered down and too generic, and there is the potential for misunderstanding of the message in different languages. "Many of the best ideas use clever language, nuances and balance in tone to create the biggest impact and empathy," says Atkinson.

What is paramount to success, adds Borthwick, is "having a strong understanding of the market in which we are activating a brand, and continuing to monitor consumer behaviour to ensure the success of any campaign in delivering a meaningful return".

Most recently, Lightblue has been developing a local strategy for global campaigns on behalf of Adidas football and PlayStation's Uefa Champions League sponsorship. "What's clear is that globally many people share a love for football, but it would be very naive to assume that that's the way they talk about it and digest brand-related content. Global campaigns require joined-up thinking and that cannot be achieved without local agencies, otherwise we'll most probably see a shift away from it," Borthwick believes.

Developing best practice

Sarah-Jane Benham, managing director at Kru Live & Kru Talent, says the agency has definitely seen an increase in globally integrated campaigns. "As an agency service, 'international' evolved to service our clients' growing demand," she says, adding that the agency's clients can now activate worldwide through its international arm, The Staffing and Entertainment Collective, just as easily as they can here in the UK. "We have procured partner agencies worldwide (currently 34), which makes global integration for our clients as simple as running a campaign in London, Manchester or Glasgow, for example."

Kru launched an exchange programme through The Staffing and Entertainment Collective this year, where those on its operational team spend time working in the agency's partner offices overseas, and vice versa. "It is proving a huge success, both for our team members and from a whole-agency perspective. Both agencies gain invaluable knowledge and develop best practice together; the chance to spend time 'in each other's shoes' has led to further refining of inter-agency processes and both agencies have implemented procedures discovered during their stay," explains Benham. "'Portugal' had some great ideas around team engagement, for example, that we are now putting into practice."

Echoing Atkinson's earlier comments, she adds that the key opportunity of a globally integrated campaign, for both agency and brand, is efficiency and therefore cost reduction, as well as consistency of delivery and results. "Through experience and complete understanding of local markets, costs and process, the advance preparation across markets becomes cohesive, and post-activity feedback and reporting of results becomes consistent for the end client. Efficiencies and cost-savings lead on to the opportunity for further activity - to either reinforce and repeat or expand reach into new markets."

Global brand activations

Brands operating on an international level:


In March, the brand launched a global running series as part of its NikeWomen Victory Tour. In 20 cities, women of all fitness levels have been encouraged to take part. Events include 10km to marathon Nike+ Run Club races, and five-hour Nike+Training Club tour training experiences.


Microsoft recently held its first global Skype-a-Thon event for school children. It was designed to celebrate the notion of learning without borders and allowed participants to take 'virtual field trips' to all seven continents, including learning about sea turtles and exploring Western American art.

Kit and Ace

The Canadian clothing brand is just finishing its global hotel tour, coined The Carry-On. The pop-up series has travelled to luxury hotels in San Francisco, London, Melbourne, Sydney and New York. Guests have been able to peruse and purchase the brand's pieces without even having to leave their hotel.

Ben & Jerry's

Ben & Jerry's once again hosted its Free Cone Day on 12 April, which marks the 37th year that the initiative has run. Offering a free scoop of any of its flavours, the brand handed out more than one million samples across the globe last year, and was looking to top this figure on that one day in April.

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