Paul Gardner, Group Chairman of Grey Worldwide
Wednesday, June 14 2006
Grey Worldwide Melbourne, AUSTRALIA
Level 5, 470 St Kilda Road, Melbourne Vic 3004
Paul Gardner: My name is Paul Gardner. I am the Group Chairman of the Grey Global Group in Australia and New Zealand which used to be an advertising agency but now it is expanding more into a marketing communications group. We look after traditional advertising, media, and sales promotion which people would call now a digital marketing through interactive. We are also a healthcare group.
IS: Have you come across issues or challenges in cross-cultural communication in advertising?
PG: I guess the obvious ones are the government communications. There is legislation in place for federal advertising but it needs to be available in what they considered to be the major languages of Australia which is 26. At this stage there is 26 languages, and there is a consideration especially in areas such as anything to do with public awareness campaigns that must be translatable into those areas. There are some commercial opportunities such as AXA which we recently done, which need to translate cross-country. We are actually doing Pan-Asian work at the moment.
IS: Do you have field experience in developing a marketing or advertising strategy/campaign across different national markets and cultures in the Asia Pacific region?
PG: As I mentioned before AXA. AXA is a wealth creation and an insurance company. The campaign we developed for them 18 months ago in Australia, which is called the "AXA Plan", the strategy was the thing that really translated across all of the different countries and they are executed locally. We are now developing work for the UK, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea and China.
IS: What sort of issues did your team faced? How you handled it? What did you do?
PG: I guess one of the biggest issues we had to face is that clearly regardless of how we like to position Australia; it still is largely seen as a colonial outpost. So the way we approach advertising tends to reflect that. As we know some parts of Asia especially China, the British sense of humor is considered too subtle and they really prefer a "Jackie Chan" kind of action and humor more overt than subtle, so that was one of the issues faced so the campaign does use humor. It is easier for us to run that campaign in London for instance, than may well be in the Philippines. We had to be conscious of that. We also have to be conscious of if we are doing a campaign that is going to run across different countries in Asia, is there one typical or stereotypical person that represents Asia that's very different not only by countries but also cultures within country. For instance do we do a typical Chinese family that runs across the whole gamut of Asia? And how will that work in India, and how will that work in Thailand. So we had to be aware of the regional sensitivities, cultural sensitivities, communication sensitivities and religious sensitivities as well.
IS: What is your opinion on taking an international approach but with a local understanding? Do you think that will grab the customers' attention in a particular region?
PG: Depends very much on the category of the product and services. For instance if you do an approach on HIV it might well resonate in a country like Australia where it is still fortunately largely a minority issue, whereas in other countries like China, it is a much bigger issue. I think that you have to see the execution might be different and the amount of money you put behind it might be different but I would imagine it at the very core that the strategy can be the same. For AXA, the strategy for AXA is "You can't have a plan for life, you can have a plan for living". Now that strategy transcends all different cultures and the fact we wrote the same campaign in China, Japan, Australia, UK and Italy shows that the strategy is sound and how we implement that and execute it are very different.
IS: Can you identify a global brand that uses the same concept or campaign idea across different culture and countries especially in the Asia Pacific?
PG: If you look at the other brands like Nike, once again the essence of aspiration and achievement transcends different cultures and can work with local executions working better... I mean the Tiger Woods’ execution will work particularly well in certain countries and won’t work in others.... being golf, I think golf is probably fairly universal appeal for a lot of Asian countries but if Nike were doing it with Michael Jordan whilst that launch the brand in Australia it will never really work here (Australia) because basketball has a certain level of interest.
IS: If you wanted to advertise Nike who would you use?
PG: Shane Warne. I mean Shane Warne of course is Nike. He has little Nike earring, I wouldn't use Shane to launch any telephone brands. (Note: Shane is renowned for using SMS to contact girlfriends while he was married, his messages were discovered and published).
IS: What about Kathy Freeman?
PG: Kathy Freeman? Possibly. Kathy is now out of the spotlight a bit. I think once an athlete leaves his/her chosen profession, it's very difficult to align with other brands.
IS: ....Or Ian Thorpe?
PG: Ian Thorpe would be a great ambassador, but I think he is currently with Adidas... as I recall. It is interesting to see the ones that become celebrities because they are so good at their profession. I remember during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a friend of mine in America were saying they only showed two Australians, which was Ian Thorpe and Kathy Freeman. They only showed those they rated as really world class. Whilst we can get, and other countries get really wrapped up in it, if you go to Singapore and read the sports pages, its all about who won the badminton or who won the table tennis, we could become very myopic about who our real sports stars are, who our real celebrities are... and you have to take a more global approach or more pan-regional approach.
IS: In your opinion, what are the steps or issues to be considered when tailoring a marketing strategy in different countries especially in the Asia Pacific Region? What steps should be taken? How should the issues be addressed? - For example, an Australian agency launching an Australian brand targeting the Asia Pacific Region.
PG: First you need a strategic direction. I think we need to decide what is the common thought and insight that will work across the region, and to do that you need to understand and research the consumer quite heavily. What turns them on, what turns them off. For instance, the AXA Plan campaign as an example, in Australia the essence may well be that... "I don't want to be working when I am 80”, in other words I need to save up for my retirement now whereas we found in Japan, they actually want to keep working when they are 80, because they feel to retire is to lose their "usefulness". So the same product, but two very, very different insights, so we need to now turn that around into a common insight rather than "I don't want to be working when I am 80", it may well be to - "I have to maximise most of my working life". We take that as a preposition and then look there is a local interpretation what does that mean in Japan, what does that mean in Australia, so you can have common elements, the logo, the colours, the tone, the style, the music.... but you may subtly change the variation to suit the local.
IS: The "AXA Plan" is definitely an interesting campaign. Do you have all the different executions in Grey's Melbourne office?
PG: We do. Some of that we have to translate. And as I said the humor is important. The interesting thing for us of course people don't understand what "Plan" is. In mainland China for instance, the role of advice is not as sophisticated as it may well be in Singapore or Hong Kong or Sydney. So it is important for us to understand that and make those changes accordingly. Each office can introduce their own "Plans"... and what we will do is tough them up a bit.
IS: So, who translated the copy and headlines?
PG: The local offices. The local client’s responsible for the altered translation, I can't look at it and then read in Thai, and say yes, that's right or that's wrong, so that is their responsibility.
IS: Do you assume ad agencies always understand everything about a particular culture or market and how cultural issues can impact on the marketing of the clients' product? (If not, how would an ad agency evaluate such a situation in order to forecast possible problems that might arise? Who alerts the agency? What is done to keep campaign executions "safe"? Who would you hire, and with what level of experience, to tackle issues or possible problems?).
PG: Do ad agencies assume they know everything about a local country? The answer is No. Often an ad agency will have a branch in the local country; we have an office in Singapore, Vietnam, even Cambodia and most of the Asia Pacific region. So the first thing we'll do is to talk to them and say, does this make sense? Assuming that they say "Yes, it makes sense" and it will work here, may not from a "Is it effective?" but more from "Is this likely to offend somebody?” because, although Australia prides itself as a multicultural country, the fact the matter is we don’t really understand the subtleties of it, and for instance we might not understand the subtleties or the nuances of Muslims.... therefore you could run that in Malaysia or Indonesia which will greatly offend a lot of people. Or similarly, there could be Muslim ads that could offend the Christians in Australia. So we have to be careful of that and recognize that issue. We try to take steps by talking to the local offices, we try and take steps often by researching, AXA is a heavily researched campaign, researched across the Asia Pacific region. Who is responsible for that? The person who deals with the local client’s responsible for that.
IS: Who does the research?
PG: It depends on who the best research agencies is.
IS: Are there any cultural experts in the industry?
PG: Well the culture experts are largely the people from the local agencies. I imagine if you run a research company in Kuala Lumpur, you probably understand how Malaysia works. Or an Australian based research company that has an office in Kuala Lumpur.
IS: The latest Australian Tourism ad campaign, "So Where The Bloody Hell Are You?" created a whole lot of controversy in Canada and especially in the UK. Do you think the negative publicity the campaign faced in UK (where the word BLOODY is concerned) was intended or not? What do you think?
PG: It was definitely intended. But I think it is a stretch. I think the strategy is right, but I think the line is "soft"... you know "So Where The Bloody Hell Are You?". This agency (Grey) ran an ad in 1989, which said, "If you drink and drive, you're a bloody idiot". I mean that was controversial in 1989, if its controversial now should have been 17 years ago. In that particular instance, that was using for more effect where, "So Where The Bloody Hell Are You?" campaign delivered by glossed up, dolly birds in bikinis doesn't ring true, it doesn't look like that's what she should say. The likelihood of that ad influencing someone to come to Australia in that time frame is zero. Nobody watches an ad and says, "I must go to Australia". You must be in that time… you must be in that zone of "I am looking for somewhere different to go, where will I go...I can go to Australia, I can go to Canada, I can go to South America", then you might be influenced, but if you are in England and you planned a nice holiday to the French Riviera and then the ad comes up; "NO! I’ll go to Australia!” I can't believe that, I just can’t believe that.
IS: I bet they have done a lot of research to launch that campaign... (Interrupted)
PG: Rooms full! Rooms full of research...
IS: ...but in Canada they not only have controversy over the word "Hell", but also with the opening scene of the campaign, which violates the Canadian ruling against advertising unbranded beers...
PG: It is no different to... you know.... those little old stories about... I think its Honda or Suzuki.... I can't remember.... someone bought the car and it meant certain things in one country and certain things in another. Some are banned; some meant drug parties.... or sex orgies... I don’t know what it was... But we face that all the time, we are more marketing literate, we are more globally aware.... now. I think cultural sensitivity’s the opposite, the third part of that... that's not the debate. The debate is how is the best way to achieve the cultural sensitivity... and in my opinion, it isn't necessarily setting up a specialist company that handles virtual translations and some degree of expertise. In my opinion, research the consumers on the ground now... and understanding what works and doesn't work... but there will always be some subtleties that won't work or is the humor too British or.... So there's a slight offence, big difference between slight offence and major offence/turn off. You have to avoid the latter, the first one, I guess there is a degree of inevitability about it.
IS: All right, that's it!
PG: Thank you very much!
Paul Gardner tends to the view that it is not necessary for a specialist provider in-country to give the best translations and cultural interpretations, but in effect this is what he does by referring campaigns to local, in-country Grey Worldwide offices for the final translations and cultural input. This is borne out by the example of the “AXA plan” campaign where cultural modification was required due to a great variance in expectations of local people with regard to retirement in comparison to Australian workers’ views.
Grey Worldwide currently has offices in many areas of Asia Pacific region, but if it were to venture in to countries where there is no local Grey Worldwide office, they would be forced to rely on services of local providers to ensure that the appropriate language and cultural niceties were observed, I see this as a niche market where my company would be able to provide support and services to multinational advertising agencies who don’t have on-ground offices in these areas. Being based in Australia allows for easy interaction with said Australian agencies, while my in-country employees would provide the expert, first hand knowledge and language required to meet the needs of the clients.