The fact that Coca-Cola has ‘broken ranks’ with the other global
American mega corporations and appointed 30 advertising agencies to
bring a creative local flavour to the global message seems to have
surprised most seasoned observers.
The fact they are achieving business success with this policy seems to
have surprised observers even more. As a seasoned observer myself, I’m
surprised they’re surprised.
All the best advertising textbooks agree on one thing: that you must
know who you’re talking to if you want to create truly persuasive
This means not only knowing what sort of people they are but what media
they consume, what they feel about products or services on offer and
what they feel about competitive products and services. This information
cannot be amalgamated across a spectrum of national boundaries because,
as I learnt at school, you can’t add apples and pears.
This is why we find the following recent quotes from current and ex-
creative directors of multinational agencies bemoaning the preponderance
of ‘international’ work: ‘London is now handling a tremendous amount of
European work; often bland, lowest-common-denominator stuff,’ and ‘You
do marvellous work even the young spurters at spring-green agencies
envy, but only get assessed on the pan-European stuff that started life
far from home, over which you have no influence.’
The Ecu even seems to be dropping in the minds of battle-hardened Euro
businessmen like Bill Jones, managing director of Disneyland Paris, who
has discovered ‘the European consumer anticipated at the launch of
Disneyland Paris doesn’t exist’. Surprise, surprise.
The US Advertising Age seems to agree, stating in September that
‘sophisticated global marketeers no longer manage international brands
largely by developing ideas at headquarters then exporting them to local
Oddly, the increasing harmonisation in Europe seems to be causing a
hardening of local issues, not only between countries but also within
them. The Times recently stated: ‘It would seem that a loss of national
identity in the EU is inspiring an explosion of reasserted regional
Thus Scotland demands more than the return of the Stone of Scone; the
prosperous Northern League wants out of Italy; and East and West Germany
Yet there are still massive global agency wins. Colgate pumps dollars
550m (pounds 352m) into Young & Rubicam, IBM commits dollars 400m
(pounds 256m) to Ogilvy & Mather, Fiat and Oz tourism consolidate into
DMB&B. Is it just megalomania, corporate neatness, economic imperialism
or the need for a quick-fix solution or short-term savings? Who knows,
but it doesn’t seem to be anything to do with business success.
Pepsi vs Coke is well documented. Mars is being ‘outmanoeuvred’ by
rivals such as Nestle, which says being too global means you ‘lose
efficiency in communication’.
So maybe we’re returning to an era of advertising common sense - talking
to people we know rather than people we don’t.
Tom Rodwell is vice-chairman of Court Burkitt & Company