The news was only one rivulet in a stream of concerned rumour winding out of the isolationist Communist state, where reports of disappearances, poverty, summary executions and starvation form a complimentary backdrop to the Kim dynasty’s cult of personality.
For the outside world, most of these atrocities are symbolised by an overwhelming wave of moss-green nylon, gold medals and red stars, the uniform of the North Korea People’s Army and the epitome of the iron fastness that the country’s rulers lock around their own subjects.
However, Elle Magazine has seen something of worth in the iconic attire, featuring it in a recent online piece as ‘North Korea Chic’. The magazine informed its readers that “some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons. This time, it’s edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.” The piece included the image of a single gold stiletto poised next to a North Korean soldier at attention.
The piece has prompted outcry from journalists and human-rights groups, who believe that the pieces trivialise the current abuses of the North Korean military complex, as well as having little respect for the people suffering under such a regime. The magazine apologised quickly and replaced the spread with a ‘Naval’ shoot, retaining the majuscule ‘N’, though not before drawing attention to the long, concomitant relationship between the military and the fashion world.
Elle is not incorrect in their point; tropes of military uniform such as gold buttons, braiding, epaulettes and camouflage continually resurface in the industry’s undulating tastes, and the importance of aesthetic impression to commanding respect and power has never been lost on the canniest designers; for instance Valentin Yudashkin designed new kit for the Russian Army only a few years ago.
However, the issue here seems to be the perceived lack of cross-cultural awareness that the magazine is exhibiting, and an absence of empathy for the ordinary people of North Korea, especially in light of recent revelations about the extent of the regime’s crimes, including the imprisonment of children in torture camps, and the execution of twelve high-profile performers for a variety of offences, including the possession of a bible.
More than most types of Advertising in Fashion, have long employed imagery that has been considered insensitive or controversial; Vogue magazine was once criticised for a shoot involving extremely expensive pieces of jewellery and clothing modelled on some of the poorest people in India, prompting accusations that the magazine was treating this demographic as little more than objects.
These publications exist at a fascinating cross-section of art and commerce, one in which a strong aesthetic ideal, perhaps considered very beautiful and thought-provoking, is paired with a strong sense of commercialism and a competitive need to sell seasonal styles.
The immediate withdrawal and apology by Elle showed a willingness to accept that a mistake had been made, and that the crossed line is now clearly marked.]]>
It is impossible to do justice to her radical views here. A rapid-fire array of topics included:
- the uselessness of innovation without active, disruptive redesign of global business or… “blowing up sh*t”
- “mad men and maths men” working as one, combining big data technology with age-old irrational human impulses
- the battle for talent in advertising
- the “commoditising” of creativity
- the consequences of global porn viewership, starting on average at age 6 to 8 and acting as default sex education
- the dominance of women in consumer purchasing decisions, and dangerous lack of influence in business decisions
- the future of money, from traditional banks to bitcoin and google… and how this may be on the verge of radically transforming all current business models and marketing.
To watch Cindy in action in the public arena, see http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/video/2012/nov/02/advertising-business-cindy-gallop]]>
An Elephant in the Room
Could it be that even Sir Martin Sorrell was a little shocked by the deca-billion consolidation of the ad industry? As Adage reported, August 27th at WPP’s half-year earnings conference he displayed a chart that naughtily painted the result of the future Publicis-Omnicom Group in a “sludgy brown colour” (his words).
He explained this is what you get when you mix the purple and orange corporate tints of the new Franco-American couple. He name-called it “POG”, and wished Maurice and John’s marriage trouble with regulatory approval.
Like a Che Guevara battling murky monopolies, comrade Sorrell defended the so-called collaborative “agency team” unite dogma for all. An anomaly designed years ago to help HSBC bank bring global order to the marketing of a disparate multi-local financial services group built by acquisition, now generalised into a single client-catch-all. Like a Richard Branson rebelliously standing up for customer rights and delights, he astonishingly dismissed scale in global creative services as a bad thing!
WPP is nothing if not a consolidated top-down empire. The performance was a smart, funny, cynical piece of propaganda to differentiate what in effect are monopolies jointly cornering over 70% of world client spend.
Jaded perhaps but not blind (clients have gone through their own ruthless series of consolidation and restructuring), the industry knows the next round, if it happens, could push the needle into the 90s.
The elephant in the room Mr. Sorrell deliberately ignored is the only one of real significance to brand owners and that is ‘the death of choice’.
The same day, the usually behind-closed-doors World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) publicly expressed “concern”. Its Managing Director Stephen Lorke shared the fear of the world’s largest brand owners that: “consolidation in the advertising market can (…) lead to a reduction in competition and transparency for our members.”
On the announcement of the deal the previous month, the share price of all holding groups had risen simultaneously (in different proportions due to the expectation of some shifting of accounts). As financial analysts know, with less choice, it is unlikely clients will get more bang for their buck.
Or to put it graphically: if you’re the nth client of a group that towers higher than the 209 levels of the Burj Kalifa in Dubai, lost on one of its service lifts somewhere between 29th and 30th floor, what do you do? You may be tempted to look for another, slightly less towering alternative, a little more fine-tuned to your unique multi-market brand challenges and opportunities. If there is one left.
The good news is exaggerated consolidation creates a void and corresponding appetite for choice, which can lead to great competitive innovation.
By 1959, the rise of standardised mass production ice-cream factories had decimated the traditional business. A resourceful Brooklyn maker by the name of Ruben Mattus saw the opportunity to delight customers with a radically premium choice, and marketed 3 flavours of Häagen-Dazs (inventing modern “foreign branding” in the same go!). Today, together with Ben & Jerry’s, it is the leading international brand in its category. Ruben Mattus made a small fortune, and the world of desserts is a better place.
Facing a seemingly immovable global carbonated beverages duopoly, the Austrian and Thai founders of Red Bull pulled off a hat trick at least as remarkable. In 29 years, despite all their financial and manufacturing might, the historic giants seem unable to crack…and the list goes on.
As a self-made entrepreneur in global marketing, I am not interested in considering mass consolidation of the ad industry as a good or bad thing.
I see it as a once in a lifetime opportunity for the most ambitious, solutions driven independent partners.
While Mr. Sorrell, Mr. Levy (CEO Publicis) and Mr. Wren (CEO Omnicom), not to mention faceless Business Process Outsourcing groups such as William Lea (owned by a utility, the German Post Office) are busy cajoling investors, locking clients into “creative services advertising production factories”, feeding the beast while cannibalising themselves, brand owners are seriously questioning how to shop different.
Unease is spreading at the perceived devil’s trade-off between “one-size-fits-all-averaged-out-good-enough” global marketing, in return for handing over the lion’s share of one’s business on the sole premises of cost, control and size.
Some may realise at their expense that mass manufacturing “efficiencies” can turn out to be illusory once the contract is signed: the price war is over, and an array of extra specialist services and amendment charges rack up alarming bills.
Others might sense their challenges are forced to fit pre-manufactured solutions, or that beyond the honeymoon, being a client is not so different from being a number on a spreadsheet.
The growing suspicion that one’s local market activity could produce better return, if solutions were specially designed to fit very specific differing strategic and organisational challenges, may be a legitimate one.
After all, if you are a Marketing Director (or agency), it is unlikely you’ll get a bonus for how much you cut the budget or exercise cost control (the case may be different for a Procurement Officer).
But it’s not impossible you will get a promotion / raise / performance bonus for helping to increase overall profit, thanks to more effective international messaging and greater local market impact. At the very least, you’ll look good.
That is why I believe privately-owned groups which deliver a global effectiveness premium will win. The winners will not be everything to everybody, but the best at what they do. The most attentive and agile players will thrive, using technology as a leveller and talent as a differentiator. They will be sought after by brands and agencies that demand more effectiveness, transparency and choice.
With one caveat. Winners will need to demonstrate the prerequisite global track record, efficiencies and scale that allow substantial multi-market clients make a secure, trustworthy choice. Nobody wants to lose their job.
The writing is on the wall. Unless they find a way to grow significantly, small lifestyle cottage industry type suppliers will be marginalised or die, condemned to scavenge the dwindling scraps of globalised business.
Like it or not, in the end the bold deal Mr. Levy and Mr. Wren have done is inspiring. By putting aside their rivalry and not going it alone, for better or worse (only time will tell), they will game change the business.
There is no rational reason for game changing joining of forces not to happen at the independent level. It’s simple market logic. Combine the best, most effective global creative services with enough scale to allow the most demanding global brand owner to choose. Set a strategic direction and throw in a “nothing is impossible, we try harder” attitude. It might not dislodge the factories, but could give them a run for their money, spark some great innovation, open choice – and let an exclusive club of first class clients experience a little love.
My independent company Textappeal has made such a step by joining with an outstanding, underestimated privately-owned firm ten times larger, called Loveurope.
We did it to give our international clients more premium international services under one roof. We did it because we felt the time and fit was right. We did it because we recognised that very ambition in our new colleagues. We did it because we see this as once in a blue moon white space, and intend to fill it.
Perhaps, if the stars align, our butterfly flap of the wings will trigger a tempest of future iteration in our industry’s saga. We’ll see. In the meantime, relax and enjoy the show.
By Elliot Polak, founder and chief executive, Textappeal
Click here for M&M Global blog post]]>
Achtung! Of the 5,000 new words that feature in the latest edition of the German equivalent of the OED – the Duden – one has raised a few more eyebrows than the rest. It’s an Anglicism, or a loan word from the English language, that has gained intriguing popularity in the German-speaking world, even appearing on the lips of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The word is Shitstorm, and means in German roughly what it means in English.
This last point is one worth making, because the German language has a longstanding tradition of borrowing words from English and distorting their meaning ever so slightly, giving them a new life of their own in English. Pseudo-anglicisms have become engrained, the unwitting German speakers largely unaware that the words have not travelled well: that in English a Streetworker is not an outreach worker, and that asking for a Handy is likely to get you a slap rather than a mobile phone.
France is traditionally much more protective over its language, with the much-vaunted Académie française dictating what should and should not be said. Or at least attempting to dictate… In this technological age it has made some admirable attempts to resist the (new) lingua franca by introducing such terms as courriel – a clever way of combining “courrier” (mail) and “électronique” – and mèl as substitutes for the English “email”. But few of their attempts to safeguard their linguistic shores against English invasion have been successful, and some of them have invited ridicule, as with this recent #hashtagdebacle. And reading virtually any French popular culture or fashion publication is enough to show that the prescriptivists are increasingly fighting a losing battle.
Japanese is a language from further afield that is a big borrower, not just from English but from other tongues too: sarariman – a salaried office/white collar worker – from “salary” + “man”; sekuhara, from “sex(ual) hara(ssment)”; abekku – or “romantic couple” – deriving from avec (“with”) in French; or igirisu, meaning England, from “ingles” in Portuguese, one of the many Japanese words that evidence the countries’ shared history.
It’s no secret that the English language is prone to pinching words at will, now more than ever deserving of its reputation as the “bastard tongue”. There is not enough space even to make a start in this blog, but suffice to say that our vocabulary reflects our rich and varied history in terms of trade, colonisation, cuisine, immigration and much more besides.
Any bastard favourites that you can think of from home or abroad? Let us know in the comments section or via Twitter or Facebook!]]>
We believe global advertising has the power not only to drive a brand’s results, but also to do some good. That’s why for the 5th consecutive year the Textappeal team is proud to support ACT Responsible at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
On Tuesday 18th at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, ACT Responsible will launch its annual exhibition of the best creative work for sustainable causes. It’s an amazing, inspiring and sometimes shocking experience! Come and visit Hall Riviera.
All the translations of creative work were provided by Textappeal pro bono, and we are delighted to be taking part in ACT’s Pure Picnic event on Thursday 20th July. If you’re around, contact us and we’ll send you an invite!
* ACT Responsible is a Swiss-based not-for-profit organisation created in 2001. ACT stands for Advertising Community Together. Their mission is to federate the international advertising communications industry around social responsibility and sustainable development and share good practices. Contact ACT Responsible
We have previously discussed the importance of avoiding typecasting when launching campaigns in Saudi Arabia, but now we are turning our focus to another “emerging” (or should we say “re-emerging”?) consumer market – China. Recent reports suggest that the world’s most populous country is now the world’s largest luxury market, having leapfrogged the U.S. to account for 27 per cent of global spending on high-end products and services.
The two main segments driving this consumer boom can be divided into the aspirational, urban-based middle class, and a more traditional, established class that could be termed the “new nobility”. We are going to focus on this second group. Who makes up China’s “new nobility”? What are they like? What makes them tick? And what makes them different?
Traditionally members of the business and industrial elite, the “new nobility” represents ultra-high-net-worth individuals descended from the “founding fathers” of Communist China. They are therefore typically more accustomed to wealth and status than their nouveau-riche counterparts, and could be said to be concerned with conventional Chinese values and codes. One would therefore expect members of this elite to be more discreet and less ostentatious than other luxury consumers across the country. Basically, you won’t catch them putting Coca Cola in their Château Lafite…
Part of this is emphasis on discretion is to some extent politically motivated. China’s ruling classes have historically been accused of corruption, with high-end officials living the high life while much of the country remains poverty-stricken. But in an age of increasing media scrutiny and transparency, the most far-reaching anti-corruption campaign of recent times is under way. The inevitable consequence of this is that garish, excessive flaunting of wealth among this “new nobility” is neither fashionable nor advisable, “conspicuously embracing a more conspicuous lifestyle” as this blog puts it.
Another important feature is that there is an ever greater focus on “buying local”. While Western luxury brands are undoubtedly extremely popular in China as Eurozone gloom persists, the “new nobility” are more intent on supporting home-grown talent. The recent appearance of China’s elegant, understated first lady, Peng Liyuan, wearing an outfit by local designer Exception, and the subsequent press coverage, was a case in point.
Finally, another salient characteristic of this elite demographic is an increasing focus on brand loyalty. Evidence suggests that these luxury consumers, with their appreciation of heritage, durability and tastefulness, are more concerned with service and quality rather than with status. The use of good materials and subtle craftsmanship register higher in their priorities than other high-end shoppers and service users in the region.
Understanding the make-up of China’s vast population of big spenders is a complex task, and one that is open to inaccurate profiling and prejudice. One thing that is for sure is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the market is not satisfactory.]]>
Consumer shape the marketing agenda, NOT brands. Global brands now follow where local consumer lead.
That’s why real time local insight is more important than ever to fuel global thinking.
With Textappeal, what used to take weeks take days.
What used to cost thousands cost hundreds.
What used to be subjective and complex is objective and simple.
Meet us in 3.14 hotel just off La Croisette. Let’s talk about your international marketing challenges.
Email us for a chat.
Saudi Arabia is a huge market that represents rich opportunities for international brands. It is, however, a market whose culture and identity are sometimes misperceived by brands and media alike, which often stereotype. Take the example of the recent “Men Too Sexy for Saudi” news reports. Here are some common misconceptions.
Myth #1. No provocation. Provoking the imagination of consumers is the essence of many marketing campaigns. Without it, brands wouldn’t get much attention, and this rule holds true for Saudi Arabia. But how far can you go in what’s assumed to be a culturally and politically very conservative country? The slightest hint of innuendo on behalf of a global brand might be seen as unacceptable imperialism or lewd indecency, and fall at the hands of the censor. Yet highly provocative advertising developed by local agencies can drive social change by challenging attitudes and mores, such as the Rahma (Mercy) campaign against domestic abuse, particularly of foreign workers, and the recent No More Abuse campaign decrying violence against women.
Myth #2. Sex doesn’t sell. Whatever the official culture or politics of a place, there is a universal desire for women to be appealing, promoting values such as women empowerment, aspiration and education. The key in Saudi Arabia is to remain sufficiently “under the radar”. An example of a successful, cheeky campaign was the one run for lingerie brand “Change”, which was distributed via online and point-of-sales media only. This cleverly pokes fun at the censors while simultaneously staying within the actual rules of censorship.
Myth #3. Middle East: one culture and one language. Most Arab countries abide by “classical Arabic” for both spoken and written forms of the language. But each country follows different linguistic conventions on the local level, with different culture-specific interests – just take a look at the most commonly searched terms across the region to see that brands who treat the region as a homogeneous whole do so at their peril. In fashion for instance, Saudi women long for luxury designer Abaya and Thawbs, whereas the current trend in Egypt is Arabic slogan T-shirts. This is a reflection of growing patriotism following the recent political uprising.
Myth #4. Cars and women are not a good match. While currently women are not allowed to drive, the issue is not as clearcut as it is sometimes thought. It is the focus of heated debate at the top levels of government and society in Saudi Arabia, as they understand that the issue has a negative impact on the country’s image abroad. It may be time to prepare marketing efforts for this enormous untapped market in case the opportunity opens up.
Myth #5. It’s all bling bling. The luxury market in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East is huge, not just for the rich elite, but also for an emerging middle class with increased spending power for lifestyle goods. But this doesn’t mean that only shiny will sell – in fact, IKEA (despite its well-documented airbrush gaffe) is very popular precisely because it offers a more restrained, unflashy approach to furniture.
In summary, being too provocative can backfire, and being too conservative can lose the audience’s attention and be a waste of money. For maximum payout, there’s no perfect rule book to follow. Most important is to observe closely what’s happening on the ground, take carefully assessed risks, and get a strong grip early on about how your message is likely to resonate. For help navigating cross-cultural differences, contact us.
We have already talked about how lightly brands need to tread in a world where everyone is watching, where companies have unprecedented access not only to an enormous raft of potential consumers, but also to the ever-vigilant eyes of potential critics. “Trial by Twitter” is a process that has found many brands guilty, and unfortunate gaffes are never far from mind. Take Waitrose’s social media misfire last autumn, where its “Reasons” campaign was hijacked and turned on its head by teasing tweeters. Rather than issuing an apology as such, they did feel they had to acknowledge the jocular nature of people’s reactions. Other brands to have faced similar cyber-ribbing have reacted in various ways, either by adopting a similarly ribald tone, or by going on an unrepentant offensive, as this blog post discusses. And we can’t forget the reaction to Nick Clegg’s apology video, which went viral last year and totally undermined his attempt to clear the air with the British electorate.
People around the world apologise in different ways. In Japan, the act of apologising is considered a virtue (more on this later). It is no surprise, therefore, that their language and culture have such a diffuse number of ways to express the sentiment of sorriness. The same cannot always be said of the West, where people can often be found saving face by issuing ‘apologies’ that are entirely devoid of any sincerity or meaning. Or the classic British reflex-action apology, where “sorry” is used so unsparingly that it is roughly akin to “hmmm”.
Whatever the ‘right’ approach, there can be little doubt that the apology is an important art when errors in communication are so easy and public. And things only get more complicated when that apology has to be made across cultures, where different conventions, traditions and politics, not to mention different languages, are at play. Last week, Apple found themselves issuing a public apology to their Chinese customers following criticism from state media outlets about the company’s warranty terms. The apology received extensive news coverage across the country, to the bewilderment of many Chinese people, who found the authorities’ glee at events somewhat baffling compared to the veritable silence over more significant matters of public interest. What was perhaps most interesting about Apple’s apology was the way it was worded – “At the same time,” they said, “we also realize that we have much to learn about operating in China, and how we communicate here.” In this knowledge, a comprehensive global communication audit might have saved any embarrassment, taking advantage of local expertise and insight to achieve a “finger on the pulse” – essential for survival in the modern technology jungle.
As we’ve already mentioned, the cross-cultural apology is a complicated process due to the linguistic, political and cultural considerations that need to be taken on board. Indeed, an episode at the end of 2012 shows the extent of the complications in China, with the reporting of an “apology” made by the new Leader of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping. When arriving late for a speech, he made a comment which literally translates as “made everyone wait a long time”. Does this mean “sorry”? According to the presiding English interpreter, it did. Later on, however, opinion was divided among observers, with some objecting to translations from various international media outlets that played up the “sorry” aspect, while others felt the literal translation – with its more unrepentant connotations – was appropriate.
An extreme example of how cultural conventions can differ came with the public apology offered by Japanese popstar Minami Minegishi following revelations that she had spent the night with her boyfriend. She appeared with a shaved head, begging the public for forgiveness in a traditional act of contrition.
There is no escaping the fact that, were the divas of Europe or the US to so flail themselves for such minor misdemeanours, the blogosphere would be utterly saturated. Yes, it might have been over the top and unnecessary, but it was also on some level based on cultural tradition.
These examples show the challenges faced by brands operating internationally, and the need for expert, sensitive cross-cultural communications strategies. Saying sorry is never easy. Saying sorry across a cultural divide is even harder…]]>