Helen Edwards: Big, brave and brilliant ideas will find a way to go global

Helen Edwards
Helen Edwards

If you could glimpse into the soul of a big communications idea, you would see a lust to expand, writes Helen Edwards.

The idea may have won the hearts of consumers in its own country, but it knows that it can captivate others far away. It longs to travel.

If the idea is as big as it thinks it is, there is every conceivable chance that it would be welcomed by people in distant and exotic lands. Why not? Human beings are moved by much the same things in the end.

The trouble is, it rarely gets that far. Instead, it is stopped at the border, where it is quizzed by a soft-spoken official in a suit, behind whom stands a menacing trio of leather-jacketed locals. The interview is not pleasant.

Border control: I see that you are a communications idea. What business do you have in our country?
Big idea: I am here to inspire, amaze and engage your people with news about a brand they already know and love.
Border control: Were you invented here?
Big idea: No.
Border control: Then why do you think you will work in our country?
Big idea: I have been researched among representatives of your people, and have taken care to wear culturally appropriate clothing.
Border control: But you were not invented here.
Big idea: No.
Border control: Then you will not work here.

The leather-jackets give a small smirk. A "REJECTED" stamp is brandished and the big idea, feeling smaller now, will have to try its luck somewhere else.

Who are these border control officials, and what is the source of their authority?

They are the brand’s local marketers. The leather jackets are from the local agency, and between them there is clearly some kind of shadowy coalition.

As for the source of their authority, there is none. Local marketers automatically say that ideas from somewhere else "will not work here". Local agencies abhor global creatives as a point of ideology. Ask them why an idea with global pretensions is wrong for their market, and they will offer only huffing and puffing.

It’s hunch, it’s insight, it’s some kind of spiritual local intuition. Yet global marketers are expected to accept their word as received truth.

There was a great example of the patience required by global marketers at the massive ANA Masters of Marketing conference in Phoenix last month.

Debra Sandler of Mars stood up to recount the story behind the brilliant campaign for Snickers, which was based on the global insight that "people are not themselves when they are hungry".

The communications idea was strong enough to win a Cannes Lion – but it had been conceived and first run in the US. Sandler showed the reaction of the brand’s regional marketers to that in a single slide: "This won’t work here" – The World.

Yet the campaign did eventually go global. It turns out that people in other markets discovered the US ads for themselves and began sharing them. Facing the reality that the big idea had infiltrated the citizenship anyway, the border-control zealots relented, and granted it admission officially.

That’s the beauty of ideas. If they truly are big and brave and brilliant, they will find a way through.

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