By: Nicole Saleh
In the most recent worldwide television spectacle -- the 2010 Fifa World Cup -- the airwaves filled with commercials about world harmony, the love of sport and competition, and, of course, how Nike or Coca Cola fulfills those ideals. When made well, these "global" ad campaigns by multinational corporations resonate very positively with audiences, and they reap enormous profits. Indeed, a large company cannot compete with international competitors if they do not have tap into many markets at once. However, "global" is in quotes because the target audience and the creators of these ads do not span the globe. Here, global primarily means that advertisements represent Western values, are created by Western countries, and target countries receptive to Western influence. Susan Douglas and C. Samuel Craig of the New York University Stern School of Business reported that American advertising agencies and their subsidiaries produce the majority of advertisements worldwide. They also reported that in 1997 the United States boasted seven of the ten largest advertising agency groups; the remaining three are headquartered in the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. In 2009 Adage.com reported the ten companies with the largest worldwide media expenditures, in order, were Procter & Gamble Co. ($9.73 billion), Unilever, L'Oreal, General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motor Co., Reckitt Benckiser, and Nestle ($2.31 billion) (Adage.com). The companies listed represent five from the US, two from the UK, one from France, one from Switzerland, and one from Japan.
Evidently, the media content circulating globally is overwhelmingly Western in values and style, but is that necessarily negative? A successful global ad campaign must have universal appeal, and, to access that appeal, Western advertisers must have a sophisticated understanding of people's values worldwide. Imagine trying to target a specific group, like women in the United States: how could you begin to generalize? What values do they have? What are their ideals? What triggers their emotions? Now imagine trying to target women across the globe. Instead of focusing on specific niches, advertisements must tap into our shared existence -- into the things that unite people rather than divide them. In October 2009, Michelin planned to launch a global ad campaign across fifty-five countries, including the US, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, India, and South America, with the slogan, "The right tyre changes everything," (Kimberley).
What value(s) are represented in this commercial? Maybe thriftiness? The breakdown of Youtube viewers by country indicates the value could be owning a car and having the luxury to choose a brand of tire -- a value which is definitely not universal. However, in this 2010 World Cup commercial by Coca-Cola featuring Roger Milla, an African soccer player, and teams from many countries, the response recorded by Youtube has a much wider appeal outside the United States and Europe.
Of course, English-speaking countries like the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada are represented, but there is also a stronger following from India, the Netherlands, Eastern European countries, South Africa, and many other African countries. Here, Coca Cola caters more to non-Western players, fans, and cultures, excluding the United States and Asian countries almost entirely. Unlike the previous advertisement, Coca Cola manages to promote its product without talking about it at all. Instead, it embeds the soda in the celebration to create the link in people's mind between success, happiness, and Coca Cola, regardless of their origin. In contrast, the Michelin campaign uses people's anxieties about rising oil prices to demonstrate its product's superiority. Both place emphasis on a shared aspect of life, but Coca Cola's approach unites more people more effectively through positive emotions rather than negative ones. Of course, tires and soda serve very different purposes in people's lives, target different audiences, and appear in different contexts, but the message projected by Coca Cola undoubtedly has a more global appeal, reflected by the diversity of the audience and the content of the commercial.
The success of Coca Cola's message "Open happiness" versus Michelin's "The right tyre changes everything," also lends insight into the commercial's popularity, regardless of brand awareness. Douglas and Craig outline how international advertisements must frame their message:
"First, the advertiser determines the appropriate message for the target audience. Next, the message is encoded so that it will be clearly understood in different cultural contexts. The message is then sent through media channels to the audience who then decodes and reacts to the message. At each stage in the process, cultural barriers may hamper effective transmission of the message and result in miscommunication."
The message must be simple, but it must also translate. For instance, the American Dairy Association tried to use the famous "Got Milk?" slogan in Mexico, but in Spanish it translated as "Are You Lactating?" (Douglas and Craig). The simple fact that many languages, like French and Spanish, do not have an exact translation of "to get" makes it ineffective. For this reason, abstract tag lines tend to travel further than culturally or linguistically specific ones. Famous examples of this are Nike's "Just do it" and McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" which carry no specific cultural markers besides the fact that they are in English. If multinational corporations want to access a global audience, they must be in dialogue with their respective countries or risk losing business to better adapted competition.
However, all the proclamations about unity do not make it true. Corporations try to create positive associations with their product through global commercials, but they often eschew very real problems to paint a happier picture of the world. In an ideal world, all countries would have the opportunity to compete and represent themselves in a truly global market, instead of Coca Cola dictating how African cultures is depicted, for instance.
Although Western domination of advertisement has many negative consequences, there is hope in the fact that multinational companies must adopt a global orientation in order to succeed. Advertisement may not be truly "global," but the inclusion of a diverse array of cultures in those advertising campaigns is a step in the right direction.