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Rated: E · Article · Business · #994041
Modifying products to regional tastes to improve sales.
Transnationals are fast learning that it pays to think global and act local while prompting international brands in the Indian markets, according to Nita Kapadia

Printed in Brand Wagon, advtg. & Mktg. supplement of Financial Express

It’s a classic conundrum for a transnational corporation: should it think global and act local when it comes to advertising in markets ranging from Australia through India to Zaire? Or should it just develop a central competent campaign that can be cyclostyled across cultures?

Mattel Toys, based in the US, learnt the answer the hard way.
The toy-titan was mystified when despite successfully selling its famous Barbie doll in dozens of countries without any modifications, sales refused to pick up in the Japanese market. Takara, its Japanese licensee, decided to survey eighth-grade girls to account for the resistance from the market.

The Barbie bloomer soon became clear; Japanese girls could not relate to the doll as her breasts were too big and her legs too long. Mattel instantly modified the Japanese Barbie, only to find sales boom. Hardly surprising then, that today, Mattel has made over the quintessential blond bombshell into a demure, dark-haired, sari-clad bride for the Indian market. Says Venkataraman Shantakumar, managing director of Sista, Saachi and Saachi, “Almost all transnational companies do think global and act local right from the beginning.”

To be sure, for starters, it does help a company going global to freeze an international image for its brand, “Cost efficiency alone,” Says S. Biswas, accounts manager,Madison Advertising, “compels most multinationals to build their brands internationally. One international brand means common raw material, common packaging and similar communications. So, a generic USP is looked for.”

By choosing a simple but striking peg like beauty, Hindustan Lever, the Indian wing of Unilever Group, not only saves on brand development costs for a product like Lux, but also hardly needs to finance local research. However, the global only strategy works only as long as there is no competition in the local market.

Consider Lux, where its USP was soon lathered up Camay entered the market, also pushing its soap’s beauty enhancing goodness. Hindustan Lever soon found that each time a Lux model extolled her beauty, she was inadvertently also helping develop its rival’s market. Accepts Biswas, “A problem does arise when a competitor has the same USP, like Camay.”

On the flip side, Camay leveraged its ability to adapt its global advertising to fit local conditions. Basically a Camay TV commercial has a single line mandate; to show a beautiful woman bathing with Camay. Then the company allows local variations.

In Venezuela, a man was included in the bathroom scenes, in Italy and France only a man’s hand could be seen and in Japan, the man waited outside. Says Biswas, “There can be meaningful advertising for Indian consumers only if, despite strategies remaining the same, freedom in terms of execution is given to creatives.”

Hewlett-Packard, the total computer solutions megacorp based in California, USA is a perfect example. When the company first entered the Indian market, its ad-shop MAA- Bozell, was deluged with instructions from the parent company in the form of communications manuals.

The global edicts lay down precise instructions- from the tone of voice, the style of copy, the kind of icons and even the size of the logo. According to Tagore Berry, Account Director, Trikaya Grey, who worked on the Hewlett Packard account for MAA-Bozell at that time, sticking to the tried and tested message made sense. Says he, “Why should one reinvent the wheel?”

There was one caveat though: at that time, HP printers enjoyed a near monopolistic command over the market and advertising was mainly undertaken to create awareness. For two years, the generic promotion for laser printers in India consisted of creatives that faithfully replicated HP’s international strategy.

However, in 1993, the laser printer market was stormed by a flurry of foreign manufacturers including Canon, Xerox and Olivetti. As a result, HP realized that the advertising too would have to change to keep track of the trends in the local market and the subsequent campaigns had a distinct had a distinct local color.

In some cases, it even pays to think local, while acting local-especially if the transnational is trying to jockey a place in a crowded market. Elf Aquitaine a $40 billion market leader in France and the world’s sixth largest lubricant supplier was attracted to India, where demand was growing by six percent a year.

However, two years ago when the company entered the market it was a slippery start
For one competition was tough, with the market already divided between majors like Indian Oil [market share: 44.5percent],Hindustan petroleum[18.5 percent],Castrol
[10.5 percent], Bharat petroleum [10.2 percent], Gulf petroleum [1.6 percent] and
Pennzoil [1.1 percent]

Secondly, the company was a rank outsider. Says Berry,
“Indians were totally unaware of the company. They could not pronounce the brand name
properly. Some even pronounced it as a collection of abbreviations.”

So in order to build up its image, the company sanctioned a corporate campaign that would help develop its brand equity in the market and educate the user. The campaign stressed on the tremendous amount of money spent by the company on research and development and highlighted its technical expertise: right from developing fuel for a hi-tech product like YSL fragrances.

Next, in order to stand out from its competitors, Elf perceived and created a totally local
Campaign in the vernacular. Created by Trikaya Grey the campaign was the result of market research which truckers and focused on service problems encountered
On Indian roads. Conceptualized first in regional languages, Berry says,
“For Goa, we had to make an English translation.”

Not surprisingly, within two years Elf lubricants India limited, has been able to curve a three to four percent share of t he Indian market. By depending on consumer research,
The transnational was easily able to tune into subtle market nuances and toggle its
Global campaigns to suit local culture and tastes.

Of course, there is a school of thought that is strongly opposed to following a transnational global template for advertising in India. Says Rensil D’silva, writer, Rediffusion, “ Give me an Indian client anytime, because that way I’ll be sure it’s my work and that we’ll be on the same wavelength.”

Such detractors tout a simple argument; a strict international corporate policy creates severe restraints for the local advertising agency. Forced to develop advertisements under tight parameters and control, the agencies complain that copy instructions are spelt out, layouts are suggested, and sometimes, even storyboards are faxed across. Very often, all a frustrated copywriter gets to do is to translate the copy provided by the client-in some cases with disastrous results.

On the other hand, ad-shops like Sista are convinced that the marketing of foreign brands depends on a single all-encompassing global strategy that heightens brand identification. Says Shantakumar, managing director, Sista’s, “ Lessons learnt from the market place should be used more efficiently in different ways that go on to constitute global thinking.”

His contention: what is important is to attract the consumer, whether the advertisement is local or global. Says Shantakumar, “So if any local creative person, frustrated with set guidelines, says my consumer is different, then I’m afraid he is missing the wood for the trees.”

Especially as within the prescribed format, there is often room for creatively adapting the international campaign to suit the local market: as in the Naves campaign. Or, as in the case of Pepsi, replacing a Michael J. Fox advertisement splashed in the US with Amir Khan in India.

In fact, often when locally adapted advertising has not worked well, it’s because the ad shop did not do its homework well. Says Shantakumar, “True transnational companies produce fabulous work. Proctor & Gamble consistently produces excellent work and you can’t get more global, more transnational than that. If Whisper and Ariel are not creative, then I don’t know what is.”

Perhaps, that’s the secret for advertising in the nanosecond nineties: whether local or global, transnationals have to choose the best billboard, which will stand out in the crowded global village.

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