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The perilous pitfalls of business development for brands in the global village

In the last few days I’ve seen two articles in the marketing trade press where a global brand has launched an ad campaign in one country and alienated a whole bunch of customers elsewhere on the planet as a result.

Flora have released an ad in South Africa implying a father’s heart breaking as his son announces he is gay, leading to accusations of homophobia.

And in Thailand, Dunkin Donuts launched an ad last week that the Human Rights Watch has branded “bizarre and racist”. The US HQ of Dunkin Donuts apologised and is trying to pull the ad, but the horse may well have bolted as the CEO of the Dunkin Donuts franchise in Thailand has already complained about the “ridiculous” reaction and “paranoid American thinking”. The fact that the daughter of the CEO is the star of the advert will not have helped matters.

Part of the problem that these global organisations face when trying to promote their brands and win new business is that cultures across the world are vastly different. When you have globalisation of brands, an advert that would be considered acceptable to the majority of people in one nation could be very offensive to the people of another. HSBC have been drawing attention to this sort of issue for years in their own adverts, with their smug claims of knowledge of local customs as “the world’s local bank”.

The difficulty is (certainly in the cases above) that these adverts are produced, targeted and released at a national level, rather than globally. However, through the unstoppable power of the internet and social media, a campaign soon has the ability to “go viral” and offend a great many people who were never the intended audience, tarnishing the brand’s reputation across half the world in the process. A regional advert just can’t be contained regionally in this day and age.

Closer to home, Barclays have unwittingly used a clip featuring a convicted paedophile in a TV ad for their sponsorship of the premier league, albeit just for a few seconds.

Surely it is just a matter of time before another swathe of celebrities/sports stars who are/have been household names and whose faces are/were plastered all over the media promoting a certain product are subsequently arrested or shamed for doping, adultery, child abuse, drug abuse, murder or {insert misdemeanour here}… Oscar Pistorius, Lance Armstrong, the entire cast of Corrie, One Direction or {insert the celeb you would like to see fall from grace here} maybe?

Perhaps the safest move for a brand when they are considering launching any type of regional campaign to drive sales and generate new business is to include a disclaimer strapline on every piece of work… something along the lines of “This work was produced by our {insert regional office here} and any content has not been sanctioned by our global HQ. In the event that this advert has caused offence or distress, we’re sorry that we did the wrong thing”.

One thought on “The perilous pitfalls of business development for brands in the global village

  1. Years ago I remember a campaign for Heineken beer which featured the footballer Joe Jordan, famous for having no front teeth.

    The billboard posters ran in 3 panels with Heineken having restored Joe’s teeth by the third panel. Unfortunately, the ad campaign also ran in Arabic countries where they read from right to left so apparently drinking Heineken meant that you lost your front teeth!

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