24 February 2010

Global assignments are complex, so keep 'em simple

We briefed an international team of creative people today for a global assignment. Some of the group shared the conference table in Chicago and others participated via conference call from Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Milan and other places. I've led or joined many such assignments and they're a lot of work and a lot of fun. I thrive on the diversity of perspectives brought from different languages, cultures and markets.

Yes, markets. Although anthropology drives much of what we do, our briefs are based on market situations. Can we suggest new users for an existing product? Does our new product fulfill an unmet need? How can we increase market share? We are also measured on these questions based on what happens in the market.

International assignments are complicated more by market situation than language or culture. We can always adapt packaging and retail material by dropping in the relevant alphabet or language, or write TV copy without on-camera dialogue. The more difficult task is to sell a particular product that may have a different frame of reference from country to country. It's underneath everyone's kitchen sink in Argentina but a completely new product in Thailand. (This is less of a problem when the global assignment sells the global brand itself versus a specific product.)

I've seen a lot of briefs in my career that were decidedly not brief. There are many reasons for this -- unsound strategy, unclear proposition, poor writing -- but it's an especially fatal mistake when briefing a global assignment. The language of the brief must be clear, concise and unambiguous. I've posted about this before, here and here.

Clear writing and clear thinking go together -- in any language.


  1. Steve, your insight into writing briefs for an international audience are right on. Zooppa has an international community of creatives that produce user-generated advertising for brands. When we're launching a campaign with a number of ideas competing for attention, we put a lot of thought into how it might be interpreted in different languages, what common words might have different implications and might inspire the wrong kind of advertising. We recently produced a webinar for WOMMA on crowdsourcing for marketers that you might enjoy http://www.slideshare.net/ZooppaUSA/crowdsourcing-user-generated-advertising-zooppa

  2. Dear Zooppa: Thanks! The same principle applies whether you have a defined team inside the agency and client or if you throw the assignment to the wisdom of crowds. In the latter case, clarity is even more important. I will look at your slideshare posting. -- Steve

  3. As a foreigner (Eastern European expat) I consider myself a walking breathing detector of situations in which ideas' clarity has been dimmed by someone's/group's desire to appear in the know or simply to stall the project.

    By the virtue of being a bit of an outsider in the US expats like me are allowed, to paraphrase an old Southern saying, the ability to see the label on the jar, because we were never really stuck inside.