Think Globally, Act Locally: McDonald's Shows There's No Accounting For Taste

What on earth were you thinking of, McDonald’s? The company has apologised for using the slogan “Sundae Bloody Sundae” in a Halloween campaign for its ice cream. It's an intentional nod to the U2 song of the same name, but also a complete disregard for understanding the context behind it.

I saw the story of this ad a few weeks ago, and there's a really crass lack of sensitivity. And it’s impossible to undo.

So why not think before you act? Why not try to understand the sensitivities and look before you leap, understand what marketing messages can mean to people in different parts of the world?

McDonald’s faux pas is just another in a series of cultural mistakes from the world’s biggest brands. We see this in global marketing campaigns, time and time again. In October last year, Coca-Cola’s attempt to combine Te reo maori and English, the two main languages spoken in New Zealand, backfired when they unknowingly displayed “hello, death” on vending machines across the country.

In April this year, Burger King received backlash for a New Zealand advert for a new Vietnamese burger, which depicted western people trying to eat a burger with over-sized red chopsticks. Back in July, Kim Kardashian was forced to drop the ‘Kimono’ brand name for her shapewear line, following accusations of cultural appropriation.

Context is king, especially when it comes to international and localised marketing. But it’s hard not to feel like these giant brands can get away with these kinds of gaffes relatively unscathed. Arguably, being on the world stage means they’re open to more backlash, but I’d like to see the impact on McDonald’s or Burger King’s bottom line or greater reputation -- people will still be buying Big Macs and Whoppers. I’d suspect it’s not as severe as it would be for smaller brands. And that’s where the real danger lies.

Brands and businesses are more empowered than ever to expand internationally, with the internet reducing much of the bureaucracy and set-up costs that companies had to factor in previously. And innovations in digital marketing have enabled businesses to run marketing activity in multiple geographical markets, supporting business growth and driving sales in multiple regions.

But as these brands continue to mature in the global market, so too should marketers’ approach to international marketing.

One size does not fit all

In our own study of 250 international marketers, we found the majority rely on central hub teams in one location to run campaigns in multiple markets, and are unlikely to tailor campaigns based on local market audience insights, culture and behaviours.

One in three marketers admit to running the same campaigns in all markets, 62% don’t use local audience insight, and 67% don’t use locally popular platforms.

Despite this, these marketers are well aware of the importance of local market expertise -- 76% of those we surveyed said having a team member or partner with local marketing knowledge is important in delivering a successful international campaign.

So if we know local expertise is key for international success, then why aren’t we all using local experts? 

Localisation matters 

One aspect that might be holding back marketing teams from using local market experts is the perception that it is more expensive to run campaigns in this way; seven in 10 marketers we surveyed agreed with this.

It’s risky to dismiss local expertise just because it’s expensive, especially given that it is cited as an issue of high importance. Our research found that having a team member or partner with local market knowledge (76%) is as important to marketers as having high brand awareness (76% and 77%, respectively) when it comes to delivering a successful international campaign.

In addition, a failure to properly localise international campaigns can have a serious impact on the bottom line and brand reputations.

Tech innovation and a global workforce mean there are now more efficient ways for brands to manage international campaigns and access local expertise.

Partners that have local experts available on demand can be a cost-effective solution. Dialling up or down the volume of work helps increase efficiency and results whilst reducing risks.

Context and cultural awareness are paramount to success. And failing to use local expertise could have a long-term negative impact on the marketing success in that region and an even bigger impact on the organisation’s reputation.

For brands that want to effectively grow global audiences, marketers need to be producing content that resonates with a local market. That means, employing local market experts who can accurately translate and localise content based on market understanding, cultural nuances, beliefs, sensitivities and colloquialisms.

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