Gren Francis talks about why global brands need to speak in more than one ‘advertising voice’.

Whether it’s Proctor and Gamble selling Pampers nappies to the Japanese, KFC frying chicken for the Chinese or McDonalds serving Happy Meals to Australians and in the Middle East; pinpointed messaging that meets the consumer’s specific needs and spoken in that customer’s cultural language is critical if a brand wishes to increase equity and value.

Global brands need to be localised to be successful, the messaging needs to be localised for their products to be bought and taken home. As Tahmid Nayeem tells us, cultural influences, curious customs and quaint folklores are motivating factors that drive the communities’ beliefs and the shoppers’ behaviours.

In academic circles, this process of blending the global and the local is called ‘glocalisation,’ and has been studied by scholars in diverse fields.

For global brands though, what it means is that they must realise that one size does not fit all. One piece of communication cannot reflect the idiosyncratic characteristics of every market. Trying to make one homogenous message fit everyone often leads to miscommunications and, essentially, bad branding strategy.

Where babies are delivered on giant floating peaches
For example, in the West, most of us are familiar with the image of the stork delivering the baby as a euphemism for childbirth. However, in Japanese folklore, babies are actually delivered on giant floating peaches.

Babies delivered in peaches comes from Momotaro: A Japanese folk tale. Image: The Internet Archive.

Consumer goods giant Proctor and Gamble learned this the hard way when its Pampers nappy brand first entered the Japanese market featuring a giant stork—that had no meaning in the Japanese market. It was strange and out of place and thus failed as a campaign.

Other brand giants have had their messages ‘lost in translation’ too. Most of us are familiar with Kentucky Fried Chicken’s old Finger Licking Good tagline. But this didn’t sit quite right when they translated into the Chinese and ended up with: Eat Your Fingers Off.

Both Pampers and KFC corrected their blunders but these could have been avoided with more training and understanding of the process of glocalisation. Eventually, they learned from their mistakes—and other brands can learn from those mistakes too.

Getting it right
Sometimes, brands get it right and we can take these as exemplars. Let’s take a look at two McDonalds television commercials, one aired in Australia and the other in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and see how this global giant serves its glocalised offerings.

McDonalds draws from nuances of cultural practices and how Australians relate to family…and the family dog.

This Aussie ad opens on a truckie and the family dog on an interstate run. We accompany them on their journey during which time we pass a number of McDonalds restaurants. Every time we do, the family dog sees the golden arches and responds with a bark. We are led to believe the dog is just concerned with getting fed, and that the arches just mean ‘fast food.’

But in the last scene, our expectation in subverted when we see the truck driver meet up with his wife and kids, all waiting for him at the arches. Here, we realise the dog is excited to see the family. The brand meaning connotes the family togetherness.

The Saudi commercial opens in a McDonalds restaurant and we see three generations of an Arabian family about to dine together. The main character in this ad is a young boy – hungry and eager to get stuck into his meal. But Arabic tradition has it that the eldest member of the family, in this case, the grandfather starts eating first – and everyone else must wait until that happens.

In this advertisement, the message is still about family but emphasises the importance of the family Elder.

The charm of this ad is the interplay between the young boy and the old man – the grandson getting more and more impatient as granddad takes his time to put the straw in the drink, pour the chips onto the tray, then bite into his Arabian wrap. At the same time underlining the family togetherness which is very much McDonalds branding.

The two ads are so different but both imply that the brand is about family. By navigating cultural differences and respecting the traditions in different markets, McDonalds makes a global message that has genuine uptake in local markets. they nail the nuances of glocalisation.

For a campaign to get its return on investment, it must pay respect to national and regional culture and embrace the local insights—then design messaging to suit.

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