Standardisation saves costs

We have already discuss the question of product standardisation and the same type question arises when we get to export promotions. Despite cultural and environmental differences, significant economies of scale (and hence cost savings) can be achieved by standardising your international promotional efforts. Obviously, it is not possible to standardise all aspects of an advertising campaign, for example – language differences alone would prohibit this. However, it may be possible to have a standardised or common promotional strategy, creative idea and message, and in many cases also a common medium. Standardisation reduces costs such as those related to artwork, copy-writing, block production, printing, film production and the use of creative staff and, in many cases, may actually improve sales. The Avis Rent-a-Car company, for example, achieved considerable success in Europe with the “We Try Harder” slogan that it introduced in the USA

What to bear in mind when standardising your promotional campaign

When deciding whether or not to standardise, you should take the following factors into consideration:

  • The general similarity or diversity of the markets to be covered. Where cultural differences are minimal, and income, education and lifestyles are similar, buying motives are likely to be the same.
  • The nature of the product. Industrial goods and tourist items tend to be purchased on objective criteria that make standardised advertising particularly suitable.
  • Local advertising agency standards. Where the pool of creative talent is limited, standardised advertising is likely to be more successful than a locally tailored campaign.
  • Government and other restrictions which may prohibit the use of certain media and/or advertising copy themes
  • The availability of certain media, such as television, the Internet, or radio in the countries concerned

Prototype campaigns

Where standardised promotional campaigns are not appropriate, prototype campaigns may be suitable. Prototype campaigns are usually based on commonalties identified by consumer research in a number of representative markets. The prototypes, which are usually prepared at your firms’s head office, are then dispatched to local representatives (e.g. your agents or sales staff) in each foreign market for modification to meet specific market needs.

Levi Strauss & Co., the American originator of blue jeans, for example, introduced an advertising strategy “where the broad outlines of the campaign are given but the details are not”.


Selling Levi’s around the World

Levi’s are sold in more than 70 countries with different cultural and political aspects affecting advertising appeal. The company is evaluating its present advertising strategy to determine whether to apply a world wide strategy to all advertising or whether to settle on localised campaigns in each country. Currently, the company creates campaigns locally or regionally. Here are some of the appeals used:

  • In Europe, TV commercials have a super-sexy appeal.
  • In the United Kingdom, ads emphasise that Levi’s are an American brand and star an all-American hero, the cowboy, in fantasy wild west settings.
  • In Japan, local jeans companies had already positioned themselves as American. To differentiate Levi’s, the company representing the brand, positioned themselves as legendary American jeans with commercial themes such as “Heroes Wear Levi’s” featuring clips of cult figures like James Dean. The Japanese responded – awareness of Levi’s in Japan went from 35% to 95% as a result of this campaign.
  • In Brazil, the market is strongly influenced by fashion trends emanating from the Continent rather than from America. Thus, the ads for Brazil are filmed in Paris featuring young people, cool amidst a wild Parisian traffic scene.
  • In Australia, commercials were designed to build brand awareness with product benefits. The lines “fit look tight, doesn’t feel tight, can feel comfortable all night” and “a legend doesn’t come apart at the seams” highlighted Levi’s quality image and “since 1850 Levi’s jeans have handled everything from bucking broncos” stressed Levi’s unique positioning.

(Source: P R Cateora, Strategic International Marketing)


Problems encountered with standardisation

Special problems that the exporter might experience with standardisation which are related to national differences, usually affect:

  • The advertising message
  • The selection of appropriate advertising media
  • The selection of suitable advertising agencies

These factors are discussed in more detail below:

The advertising message

Legal restrictions and social constraints that vary from country to country quite often hamper freedom concerning the advertising message. In the case of the local export community, standardised advertising copy is commonly generated in South Africa and then translated for use in other countries, a practice that, if incorrectly handled, can negate the entire value of an advertising campaign. An apparently correctly translated message may become either incomprehensible or, at worst, make both the manufacturer and the product look ridiculous. A classic example of such an error was the translation of the English proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind” which, when translated into a foreign language, read “Invisible things are insane!”

To avoid the pitfalls of incorrect translation, the following rules should be adhered to:

  • Translate thoughts and ideas, do not provide a literal translation of words
  • Copy should be designed and written with translation in mind.
  • Unusual idiomatic expressions and slang should be avoided.
  • A native, professional should be used
  • The same language spoken in a number of different countries may have differences in its use – Spanish spoken in Colombia, for example, differs from Spanish spoken in neighbouring Venezuela
  • Local nationals who have experience in the relevant product area, e.g. agents or distributors, should always check the translation
  • The final proof should be re-checked by both the translator and the agents/distributors

Advertising media

Most advertising in the world is done through national media. However, where standardised advertising is planned, the exporter may choose to use international media. i.e. publications which receive coverage in a number of different countries, e.g. consumer magazines such as Reader’s Digest, Time or Business Week, or various trade and technical magazines. Ultimately, the exporter must select the media which are most likely to reach the target market cost-effectively. In achieving this objective, the following would normally be considered:

Suitable media may either be restricted in use or unavailable in the target market. Television advertising is often state-controlled and advertising time is strictly limited both in terms of the number of minutes and in terms of the number of minutes per product per annum. Examples of problems you may encounter, include the following:

  • The advertising of certain products, such as tobacco products or alcoholic beverages may be forbidden or restricted in terms of the law.
  • In many developing countries, it is difficult to acquire information on the circulation of publications or the type of people that they attract.
  • Where literacy levels are low, radio advertising, for example, may be more appropriate than press advertising.
  • Many countries tax advertising while other countries charge a special tax on imported advertising material. The effect this is likely to have on the marketing budget should be borne in mind.
  • Where the target country is multilingual, such as in Switzerland, regional media which specialise in the language spoken in that region, should be considered.
  • The quality of reproduction provided by some media may be unacceptable and this aspect should be investigated prior to a final choice being made.

Advertising agencies

In choosing a suitable advertising agency, the following should be taken into account:

  • The extent of market coverage of the agency. Not all markets that you may be interested in may be covered by the agency in question.
  • The quality of service offered. This differs from market to market and may even differ between branches of the same agency.
  • The extent, in financial terms, of the business offered to the agency. Major international agencies and certain foreign agencies may not handle small advertising campaigns
  • The need for international co-ordination. Where the advertising budget is considerable and a standardised campaign is planned, good co-ordination and control, usually achieved through a single international agency, may be required.
  • Larger concerns with operating bases in other countries may prefer to leave agency selection to a local subsidiary. This could also be the case in respect of joint venture arrangements or where advertising is done in conjunction with a local distributor.