Why Forcing a ‘Global’ Idea Down Consumers’ Throats Never Works

Movies can attract a worldwide audience. Why not ads, too?

Proximity's Eva Santos (center) talks creativity with Sir John Hegarty (right) and Screenvision CEO John Partilla.
Sean T. Smith

CANNES, France—As the celebration of global creativity winds down at this year’s Cannes Lions, lauded work is seeing bright exposure and a deserved spotlight. However, when digging a little deeper, especially with the top winners, one notices that these aren’t necessarily “global” campaigns or ideas.

“Most global advertising doesn’t work,” said Sir John Hegarty, founder of BBH at Adweek’s “Beyond Borders” panel discussion in connection with the Creative 100 moderated by David Griner, creative and innovation editor. “People are buying it because it looks good on the balance sheet. ‘Oh look, we’ve saved all that money.’”

Hegarty has experience in seeing ideas through from more local to global phenomenon. In the 1980’s, the agency was responsible for a legendary Levi’s campaign and, more recently, leveraged the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as inspiration for work that addressed the Grenfell disaster in London.

“[Levi’s] was a European-wide campaign,” said Hegarty. “Europe has a similar view of the relationship between Levi’s jeans in America—we all shared that view—and could create work across borders. We developed a visual narrative to tell a story without using any words. That’s why I think we were successful.”

A more recent example of brand work that broke out of a local shell into the global consciousness is Audi’s “The Doll That Chose to Drive” spot in Spain. Targeting gender stereotypes in the country, it struck a universal nerve and quickly became the brand’s way to promote,” a more egalitarian social model,” according to an Audi rep.

“We launched in Spain and transformed into a global campaign organically,” said Eva Santos, global CCO of Proximity Worldwide. “The sector is very masculine. But what is the reason? Men drive. Women drive. It was an opportunity in Spain [to make a point].”

She also noted that a campaign like this likely couldn’t have seen the light of day initially as a global platform but succeeded because the number of layers was reduced.

“Sometimes it’s easier to develop these types of things [locally] and then change the [scope] globally because you have one client instead of 20,” Santos added.

That said, brands continue to seek broad global lanes and look to force feed local content to global audiences through platforms like YouTube, which may have shifted creative processes and mindsets.

“I think we are partly to blame,” said Hegarty, who, in his role as creative consultant to Screenvision Media, received the inaugural “Hegarty Award” for cinema creative excellence. “We got very excited about it because we thought Hollywood can make a global film and it can be great—why can’t we in advertising? What we didn’t quite realize is that you end up with lots of clients in lots of different markets, all with a different point of view about what does and doesn’t work in their market. And that’s where you collapse.”

In Santos’ mind, however, platforms and distribution are secondary, compared to the core strengths and the intended response from consumers, bringing back the idea of local to global.

“We are storytellers,” she noted. “This is our reason to exist. The problem with global campaigns is [that they are] trying to be neutral. For me, the only way to do it right—and it’s difficult to speak to the client about, is whether or not [they] want to do a campaign that people remember or something totally invisible. In a lot of ways, they are wasting money because these types of [global] campaigns are invisible.”