Global brands – what are they driving towards?

There’s a current radio ad for Esso that’s driving me mad.

Why? Because it ends with the claim that it helps “your engine’s fuel economy, wherever you’re driving towards.”

See the problem?

Would anyone who’s first language is English actually say that? No. Because the word ‘towards’ in this context doesn’t make any sense. Which makes me think that it’s been translated from another language. So, what really annoys me is that some major ad agency hasn’t gone to the bother of trying to get that line translated so it not only retains the essence of the original, but actually resonates with an English-speaking audience.

Why does this annoy me so much? Well, I started out in advertising as a proofreader. Now, this doesn’t make me a grammar nazi or anything (although I do believe that misplaced or missing apostrophes should be punishable by death). But it does mean that I take care over words, their meanings and the clarity of what they’re saying. I’ve also had my fair share of jobs where I’ve had to write for global accounts. So, each time I write a pithy headline or a sentence that zings off the page, I pause and consider whether someone who doesn’t have English as their first language will understand my meaning.

As I’ve got a decent grasp of French, I’ve even translated French headlines into English for an agency in Paris before now. Not literally, of course – I came up with creative alternatives that retained the essence of the originals, but made sense to an English audience.

Which brings me to my point. And that’s the apparent rigidity of many global brands. To me, if they don’t have the flexibility to adapt to different countries’ cultures, then global brands lose their value very quickly.

Obviously, in a world that’s getting smaller through the use of social media and the internet, there’s a benefit in having a single message in every territory. But if that message has the potential to damage the brand in particular countries, then the brand needs to be big enough to implement changes.

Because of those radio ads, I now associate Esso’s brand with shoddiness and lack of attention to detail. And if lots of other people feel the same way, then that can only be a bad thing. Especially for an oil company.

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There’s no such thing as “too creative”

As a creative for over 25 years in employer and education marketing, I’ve been told a few times that a client doesn’t want anything “too creative”. OK, I’ll admit it was sometimes couched in different terms. So they might say they don’t want anything too ‘outrageous’. Or ‘whacky’. Or ‘different’. But the message was the same each time: this client’s paying for something safe that they can understand and that won’t frighten the horses.

And this is where I had a problem. You see, I don’t believe that there are degrees of creativity. And my job was – and still is – to be creative. Not slightly creative. Not middle-of-the-road creative. Not over-the-top, Salvador Dali-on-coke creative. Just creative.

Oh, and effective. Because in my job it’s not good enough just to come up with fantastically creative ideas. They have to engage and excite people and incite them to take a particular action. So I’ve never had the luxury of just coming up with a bizarre idea and making it a reality. Everything I develop has to have a purpose. You might call it disciplined creativity – the ability to develop intensely creative ideas that do a specific job. Whether that job’s to get people picking up the phone, sending an email, going to a website or clicking on a link.

And on the whole, that’s what I’ve done. For 25 years. So, when recently I was told that one of my ideas was “too creative” it hit a bit of a nerve. Because I don’t do “too creative”. I just do creative. Creative that works.