Think global, act local. It’s one of the most easily-trotted out
phrases in marketing. It sums up the business missions of some of the
world’s biggest companies, from McDonald’s to Coca-Cola to Microsoft.
But saying the words is a lot easier than delivering on them, and in
many ways it’s getting harder.
The incentives for global thinking are obvious. There’s the
globalisation of the media market itself, with billions of consumers
available via the web. Then there’s the increasing consolidation of
media businesses which are seeking to offer integrated solutions across
portfolios of international media brands.
Plus the obvious cost savings of coming up with a campaign that goes
down as well in Birmingham as it does in Beijing.
The danger, of course, is that while thinking globally, you get badly
damaged on the local front. Just ask Coca-Cola. Last week it was
revealed that Douglas Ivester is to take early retirement from the
company to be replaced by the unfortunately named Douglas Daft. An
article in The Sunday Times last weekend said Daft ’may have an
impossible job on his hands in restoring the lustre of a tarnished
It’s a verdict that may exaggerate the scale of the problems facing
Coca-Cola and its new president. But when the company in trouble is
Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest and most powerful brand, it demands a
sense of drama in the reporting of its woes.
Many of Coca-Cola’s problems stem from a failure to think and act on the
local stage. Its biggest public relations disaster of the year was the
slow, arrogant response from its head office in Atlanta to reports of
contaminated cans of Coca-Cola being sold in Belgium. Those people taken
ill included children. Yet Coca-Cola’s actions were begrudging, and too
slow. It behaved like a huge US global brand, with little understanding
of what was happening on the local level - and that, say its critics, is
exactly what it is.
Coca-Cola’s poor PR made it look vulnerable when a string of other
setbacks hit it during 1999, including raids on its offices by the
European Commission investigating anti-competitive behaviour, and the
French government decision to block its acquisition of Orangina from
Pernod Ricard. It would be naive to suggest that a bad year marks the
decline in the fortunes of a brand which has led the way in global
marketing, but Coca-Cola’s annus horribilis proves the need for strong
brand management and control.
But, ultimately, if a company as good as Coca-Cola can get it so badly
wrong, there are lessons for every marketer who works for a company
operating in international markets. The Henley Centre has talked about
the next few years seeing a ’regional renaissance’ in terms of
management at a local level. Consumers don’t want distance between them
and the brands they purchase. They want it up close and personal, and
that means a level of local accountability and autonomy.
The evidence suggests devolution of power is going to become a major
issue for global brands. For marketers it’s no longer enough to say
’think global, act local’, they are going to have to start thinking