Global campaigns are dead; make meaning instead

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Global creative chairman of McCann on how to resonate with consumers around the world

I wasn’t around to get the background scoop when McCann created our first global campaign about 85 years ago. But I’m pretty sure that those pioneers would be surprised to learn that what they think of as global campaigns are — well, to put it bluntly — really a part of the last century. The so-called global campaign is not really how we connect with people around the world today. And it’s not how we build global brands any more.

Discussions about global campaigns have tended to focus on efficiency of execution. One ad everywhere? Or adapted? Or something in-between? But building a global brand is about something much more fundamental than the nuafnces of executions and even more specific than just being about a good, solid brand idea.

What we do in our global (as well as local) business roles — and "we" includes creative and strategy — is to help figure out the meaningful role that brands can play in people’s lives. We uncover and provide meaning, not just make global campaigns.

Given the ever-evolving landscape that brands need to play in, we can no longer rely only on the traditional approaches to advertising to earn entry. It is essential that we help brands contribute value. When we get this right with an insight that is universal, then coming up with the global communications is the easy part.

Brand growth is driven by what the brand can actually help people achieve. That’s why there are also some major global brands that continue to expand even if they’re not advertising themselves. Think of Facebook. Its mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. That drives everything it does, and it’s clear to Facebook’s users what the benefit is to them. No real global campaign. Just the global delivery of brand value.

However, even among the world’s major advertisers, the global campaign is only as good as what the brand can help people achieve. L’Oréal Paris’ success is founded on the meaningful role the brand plays in empowering women. Of course, L’Oréal’s global advertising contains the very famous long-running "worth it" theme, but the brand lives beyond the tagline. If you took away the line, it would still be recognized as the brand that champions women and instills value, because that is the real foundation of the campaign. And staying true to this commitment is what guides innovation and communications excellence, as evident from L’Oréal’s Makeup Genius app — a big winner at Cannes this year.

MasterCard, similarly, is a global brand famous for its advertising. But at its heart, the enduring "priceless" idea highlights the role that the brand plays in enabling meaningful experiences. What started as a campaign has transformed into a strong brand proposition, a way of working and being for MasterCard, as opposed to just a campaign. It is manifested by creating real priceless experiences, such as the Priceless Cities and Priceless Surprises programs. Importantly, however, these are not just branches of a global campaign. They are unique programs that engage consumers around the world in ways that are consistent with the brand’s commitment.

In a technologically advanced social environment, how a brand acts in one market can impact it everywhere else in the world. With so many avenues to connect to people today, it’s considerably more complex than ever to align a global creative idea to specific local executions. Brands that are global still have to appear local. They have to earn their way into people’s lives and into local cultures.

Establishing a meaningful role in people’s lives beyond just a single campaign idea or execution is how successful global brands operate in the new era of deep globality. What a brand does on a global stage is also reflected in how it creates real meaning for individuals on a personal and local level.

Rob Reilly is global creative chairman of McCann.


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