“Global” Campaigns & The Ultimate Driving Machine

My last post regarding BMW’s new campaign resulted in a few conversations with colleagues that were interesting and got me thinking about the challenges associated with marketing a global automotive brand and the concept of a global campaign.

Virtually every automotive brand is global.  Not every brand is marketed in every country but I can’t think of any that are sold only in their country of origin.  That means that every manufacturer must be concerned with what their respective brands stand for in each country in which they are distributed.  Obviously, it is in the manufacturers’ interest to have their brands positioned in the same way from country to country.  Customers and prospects should recognize the brands no matter where in the world they come into contact with them.

Of course the real world is not quite this neat and tidy.  Brands have developed in different ways in different countries, so for some manufacturers it’s a challenge just to get their colleagues around the world on the same page regarding the brand’s core values.  In my experience we do pretty well when we concern ourselves with the strategic underpinnings of the brand, where things fall apart is when execution of the strategy is considered.

There seem to be two basic approaches to execution, each with its own set of plusses and minuses:

1.  Agree to the strategic underpinnings of the brand and let the countries/regions execute, as they feel appropriate.

  • allows for local expression recognizing cultural and societal differences which creates the possibility of much more powerful/effective communications at a local level
  • gives local management authority over one of their most potent marketing tools
  • more difficult to police or manage centrally and opens the possibility of strategic variation market to market
  • more expensive as each country will execute for their own market

2.  Implement a global campaign that is developed and approved by headquarters. Allow for language/cultural variances where absolutely necessary but otherwise use the campaign as approved everywhere.

  • virtually guarantees strategic and executional consistency
  • easier to manage centrally
  • less expensive, lower production costs, lower agency fees (?)
  • assumes that the global campaign is culturally relevant in all markets
  • often requires lowest common denominator execution

In recent years it seems that cost cutting and the desire for control of the brand message have driven many manufacturers to adopt the global campaign approach (most recently, Infiniti has just launched a global campaign and BMW’s “Joy” is a global effort).  While it is certainly cost efficient and enables central control, is it really the most effective way to go to market?

I guess the right answer is “it depends.”  In Infiniti’s case, its business is best established in the US market and it is being “launched” in relatively new markets in Europe and around the world.  Infiniti is a brand desperately in need of definition and focus in the US, let alone the newer markets, so I can see the wisdom in finding a brand positioning that applies not only to the US but all the other markets as well and attempting to execute it consistently.  There’s still the risk of the lowest common denominator communications but perhaps given Infiniti’s position that’s an acceptable downside.

BMW on the other hand is a well-developed brand and while I’m sure that some markets are better developed than others, it seems that there is strategic consistency throughout the world.  The executions may differ from country to country but the essence of the brand is the same.  I’m also sure that from time to time a market “goes rogue” and develops communications that are off the plot as far as Munich is concerned.  In an effort to avoid this problem, I can understand the appeal of a centrally conceived and executed global campaign.  But centralized development and control makes no sense when it requires that a strategically correct, well-established and powerful expression of the brand’s core values be forsaken in favor of a global expression that lacks its leverage and power.

With the new global “Joy” campaign, BMW relegated “The Ultimate Driving Machine” to a throwaway in the last seconds of the commercial.  The good news, they have a global campaign that is consistent around the world, the bad news they walked away from one of the most strategic and well-known positioning lines in the automotive industry.  While I appreciate that “The Ultimate Driving Machine” was a US-only expression, it is an idea that has clearly positioned the BMW brand for thirty-five years and helped to drive sales to levels that were unimaginable when that line was conceived. “Joy” may be a step forward for the rest of the world, but it is a step back for the BMW brand in the United States.

Every situation is different but I think several principles should guide our approach to global branding:

  1. The strategic underpinnings and core values of an automotive brand must be consistent throughout its areas of distribution. The essence of a brand should not change from market to market.
  2. It is far less important that the execution of the brand positioning be literally the same in every market. In fact, tailoring executions to culture and brand experience in the local market (assuming it is on brand strategy) opens the possibility of more powerful communications.
  3. A good corporate ID program should be in place and guide execution. Use of particular typefaces and basic design standards are critical communicators of an automobile manufacturer’s design sensibilities and adherence to them globally will ensure an appropriate level of consistency without impinging on local messaging.
  4. The sharing of production assets (e.g. photography & film) wherever possible makes perfect sense. This will save a few production dollars and ensure a level of executional consistency that is appropriate.

Adhering to these principles will not yield the lowest cost solution nor will it result in a single global campaign that looks the same in every market.  What will result is a brand that is strategically consistent from market to market while allowing for local market executions that are powerful because they reflect the sensibilities of that specific market.

Rigid adherence to the objective of having a global campaign results in dumbed down ideas that appeal broadly and sometimes results in the demotion of a powerful brand equity idea like the “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”  Fortunately BMW, left the door open to bring back “TUDM”, I expect they will.

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15 Responses to ““Global” Campaigns & The Ultimate Driving Machine”

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  9. Cameron says:

    Thanks Parker. These issues are difficult to manage but I really think erring on the side of “local” is a better approach.

  10. Cameron says:

    I agree Arthur, it’s a real mis-step for BMW.

  11. All well and good Cam
    But the ads are just dumb.
    “the only ultimate driving machine”??
    Can there be more than one ultimate?
    Geez.

  12. Parker says:

    Cameron,

    Right on my man. Absolutely consistent with my experience managing global brand campaigns. As a nascent brand … central control and development can drive necessary consistency (albeit sometimes at the expense of local relevance). But it’s like political “talking points” .. define the core message(s) … rinse and repeat.

    Otherwise, I agree. Defining the core value proposition and positioning … but allowing local creative expression of same (granted, with some policing, otherwise the rogue move is inevitable) is a much stronger strategy.

    Parker

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    Thank you Tilda.

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