Why global network agencies aren’t always the best choice for global campaigns

So, you’re planning a big global campaign for your brand, so who do you hire? A big global network agency who has offices in each of your key markets or a small independent agency who has worked with some of the world’s best brands?

It’s a question companies have been asking themselves since time immemorial and even now there seems to be no clear answer. Or is there?

We’ve already talked about how using a smaller creative agency  can be a good option (more accountability; more flexibility; better customer care), but does this apply if you need to launch a global campaign across multiple countries?

We take a look at some of the surprising reasons why hiring a global agency isn’t always best for global initiatives.

  1. Consistency shouldn’t always be the main campaign driver

One of the main reasons for using a global network agency with local offices is to ensure brand and messaging consistency. After all, if you’ve gone to all the effort of coming up with a great global brand activation, you want to be confident it’s rolled out correctly in all your target countries and is on message and on brand.

To be fair, whether this is successful or not is down to the level of autonomy given to the local markets. If they are allowed to adapt the campaign (and have the budget to do it,  more on that later), then it can work really well, but if a more centralised approach is adopted where little or no leeway is given to local markets, this is when problems can start.

Take Pepsi and their slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’. Unfortunately, when they launched in China the phrase was translated incorrectly as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’ – not a great first impression in a country where ancestor worship is an important part of the culture!

And it’s not just about translating slogans and messaging incorrectly. Cultural differences mean imagery, colours, models, even brand names need to be reviewed carefully to ensure they don’t shock or cause offence.

And then, of course, you need to check if a particular market actually has a need for your product. Pesodent, in an attempt to expand its business, launched their toothpaste in Asia and focused on how it whitens teeth. Unfortunately, the locals prefer to chew betel nuts which blackens their teeth and which they find attractive!

The bottom line is if you don’t give the local marketing team space to do the research and adapt the campaign as necessary, chances are your campaign will be getting attention for all the wrong reasons.

  1. The more teams the more likely the activation will fail

“If a team cannot be fed by two pizzas then that team is too big.”

We’ve used this quote from Jeff Bezos before and with good reason. We all know that creatives are by their very nature passionate about their work, so there is nothing worse than having control over what you do taken away from you.

With big network agencies this is often the case when you have multiple different teams working on one campaign. Often markets outside of the head office area aren’t considered to be particular important, and if the central team are making most of the decisions, local teams can feel like they aren’t being heard.

This kind of friction is never good for the client and can result in brand inconsistencies, poorly executed campaign activations and cost inefficiencies. Sometimes smaller is better.

  1. Financially, global network agencies aren’t always a great fit

On the face of it choosing a large agency with offices worldwide seems a great choice. After all they have a ready-made network of local offices all ready and waiting to launch your global campaign.  And most importantly the global team will have complete control over your brand, so the quality of your campaign across all countries will be assured.

But that in itself is part of the problem. Choosing a big agency to come up with a big idea costs more money. And like it or not, larger agencies cost more for the very reason you choose them in the first place, namely offices and personnel worldwide.

Now, if you’ve got really deep marketing pockets, chances are this won’t be a problem, but for a lot of smaller companies and brands, this often means most of the budget is spent on the big idea, leaving nothing in the budget for local activations. The result – a great campaign that is never allowed to fulfil its full potential.

So, how are smaller independent agencies better?

For us, one of the massive upsides of not having a string of global offices or being part of a big corporate entity is that we aren’t constrained by local or corporate politics.  As a result, we have more creative freedom and, crucially, the time and budget to do proper research into each of the markets to ensure assets are always spot on.

Take our work on Flexadin Advanced, a new product designed as long-term support for ongoing mobility in cats and dogs. A global launch campaign was needed for 12 countries and 8 languages. As lead creative agency, we developed and delivered a toolkit of guidelines and assets to allow this to happen easily. This quote from Isabelle Le Quan DVM, International Range Marketing Manager, Vetoquinol, says it all.

“The international campaign produced excellent results – countries which have either the old or the new formulation of Flexadin Advanced saw growth in sales turnover for the year to November 2019 of over 40%…”

And because we are smaller, we really care about every one of our clients, no matter how small. While this might not seem a ‘big’ thing, we find our level of care and ability to be flexible to changing needs is crucial for launching a successful global campaign. Something bigger agencies, crippled by policies and procedures, struggle to offer.

Bottom line is, we deliver world-class creative globally and locally minus the fluff, overheads and stress you get with big agencies.

So, big network agency or the world’s smallest global agency? The choice is yours.