Some brand names are recognized the world over. Overseas expansion is the dream for many brands that are looking for new opportunities outside their traditional markets. There are several approaches brands can take when doing this: export their existing marketing strategies wholesale to a new audience, make subtle changes to appeal to new customers without losing their original unique selling points or to attempt to translate their product entirely to appeal to a very different culture. There is no one method that works, as the following examples show: sometimes success or failure can come down to some very basic market research.
Ford sells the Focus back to the US
In 2012, Ford launched their first global car, a version of the re-engineered Ford Focus. While the Focus had enjoyed huge popularity in Europe, sales had not been strong in North America, partly because the stylish second generation model that had taken Europe by storm had never been launched in the US. The new model integrated many of the European aesthetics, plus several high-spec, high-tech features.
In North America, Ford had a bigger challenge than in Europe, where the style was already familiar. With little public awareness of the new look, Ford launched a more American-friendly sedan model alongside the more revolutionary European-style hatchback. Advertising concentrated on the aerodynamic features of the new design and fuel efficiency as a way of winning over the middle-American demographic. They also tried to attract a younger, more tech-savvy customer with a social media campaign featuring Doug, a sock puppet, which attracted 45,000 Likes on Facebook and around 2 million You Tube views (the campaign has since been pulled).
Did the marketing campaigns work?
In Europe, where the launch challenge wasn’t so great, sales have been strong, with the new Focus passing the 250,000 sales milestone
In the US Ford says that “February [is] on track to be best sales month in more than a decade [and the] share of high-end SEL and Titanium Focus models are up to 26 percent.” The move towards a more luxurious, high-tech spec seems to be paying off.
Nissan Micra Star of India Campaign
While Ford opted to move towards integration of their European and North American styles, Nissan’s Star of India campaign embraced Indian culture in a hugely successful social media campaign to raise awareness of their Micra model, which has sold over 6 million units worldwide but had only recently been introduced to India.
The campaign teamed up with Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor to offer fans the chance to star alongside him in a 3-minute film, the Star of India, (featuring an epic Nissan Micra car chase) if they uploaded a clip of them dancing, voted for by Facebook users. The Facebook page gained over 500,000 Likes, more than any other car company in India.
While some brands change their advertising to reflect cultural differences in their marketing, others go further and change their entire product. Foster’s lager is not popular in its native Australia, where it has only been infrequently promoted in ten years, and its premium Foster’s Gold line isn’t even available there (it is made in Europe under rights owned by Heineken International). However, that doesn’t stop the $12 million celebrity-endorsed overseas marketing campaign from focusing on a mix of Australian down-to-earth humor and modern glamor, and the lager continues to be popular in Europe, coming second only to Carling in the UK by sales.
Coca-Cola’s regional ads
The Coca-Cola brand is instantly recognizable around the world. Part of the secret to their success is exporting their product as a concentrate; overseas bottling companies then add sweeteners and filtered water, which gives it a distinct flavor in each country. Some regions even have their own products based on local tastes, such as the lemon-and-lime drink Limca in India. Marketing is also very region-specific, for example having a Diwali-themed holiday commercial in India, or commercials that reflect local music tastes in Europe. Coca-Cola’s strong 6% global increase in 2011, boosted by developing market sales, helped it to remain as the leader in soft drinks in the world.
Dassani’s abandoned European expansion
On paper, Coca-Cola’s bottled water brand Dasani should have had a trouble-free European launch, given Coke’s experience with overseas markets. In 2004, the plan was to use the UK as a launch pad for the rest of Europe.
Early advertising used the same taglines ‘Bottled spunk’ and ‘Can’t live without spunk’ that had been used in the US to highlight Dasani’s youthful, healthy image.
Except that in the UK, ‘spunk’ has entirely different connotations, being slang for ‘semen’. The ads were quickly pulled.
The differences in US and European cultures became even more problematic. In the UK, 88% of bottled water sold comes from natural mineral or spring sources, and Dasani’s labeling stated that it was from ‘pure’ sources. When the UK press discovered that Dasani was not from a spring or glacier, but purified mains water from Sidcup, a suburb of London, there was a public outcry, with the tabloid press running headlines like ‘The Real Sting’, a play on Coke’s slogan, or pointing out that Thames Water, who serve the area, sell 500ml of tap water for 0.03p, as opposed to Dasani’s 95p for 550ml. The Food Standards Agency began an investigation into Dasani’s labeling.
Things went from bad to worse as it emerged that water production had become contaminated by a potentially carcinogenic bromate. Coke took all 500,000 bottles off the shelves and abandoned the European launch, which has not as yet been rescheduled.
What can we learn from this?
• There is no one ‘right’ way to advertise a product in a new market.
• Often, brands will make changes to the products themselves to appeal to variations in taste or lifestyle.
• Successful marketing will take into account local customs, interests or sensitivities.
• Market research into local cultural differences is key to success, even for large brands used to dealing with overseas markets.
• Marketing campaigns can be exported wholesale, but often local voice-overs or slight changes may make them more familiar to audiences. For example, in the identical European Ford Focus television ads, shots are edited to make the car appear to be driving on the left in the UK.
• Failure to take regional differences into account can be highly damaging to a product.