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Iconic advertising: A successful formula for international B2B creative?

In a recent survey by B2B Marketing Magazine over 1 in 4 respondents claimed that developing creative that can work internationally is the most significant marketing challenge facing their organisation.

It would be even higher if it wasn’t for the fact that quite a lot of clients and agencies just don’t believe it is possible to create ideas that travel, so they don’t even bother trying.  A quick survey of an American affiliate network showed that just over half did not believe a single idea could work in Asia as well as the US and Europe.  Well, they’re wrong.

There are three challenges facing international creative development. The first is language and I think we all understand the difficulties there. 

The second is culture, which tends to be a two-headed problem for westerners: trying to understand the far-east and not upset the Middle-East.  While HSBC has made a whole campaign exploiting the curiosity of contrasting social mores, most other brands would prefer to avoid the issue entirely but that just creates the bigger problem of a campaign so devoid of soul and engagement that it might have been more effective to take the marketing budget and put a match to it.

The third challenge, particularly so for B2B brands, is the variation in the relative development of the brand across its markets. Put simply if you’re number one here and nowhere over there you’ve got two quite different tasks to perform.

So what’s the answer? How can you create an idea that is big enough to transcend language and cultural nuance, is flexible enough to cope with multiple market strategies and engaging enough to avoid comparison with the fun to be had from watching cells divide?

Well one answer, but it is certainly not a panacea, is to create what we call Iconic Advertising, by which we mean a creative solution that consistently uses a device, image, or symbol to convey meaning.

The icon you use doesn’t have to be iconic (as in ‘famous’) as such, but must be distinctive enough to aid recall and posses the characteristics to act as a short hand, or visual mnemonic, for your brand and thereby aid recall of its positive attributes. Investec’s Zebra, the Adecco silhouette and Thales on-button are examples where we’ve used this technique.

Chosen well a brand icon will unite a campaign across a broad range of messages, create more fame for less buckaroo and can engage an audience through an interesting visual composition. Seeing the Thales on-button on the hull of a ship or the Thales Zebra sponsoring a horse race works in any language.

I repeat, it’s not a panacea but the Investec brand punches 11 times its weight in media terms and research just in for Thales indicates that between 60 and 70 per cent can recall the key brand messages on a spend roughly half that of its two main competitors.  So give it a try.