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Without a deep understanding of local culture and myths, hardly anything works in the major growth markets, even if the rest of the preparations are perfect. Whether it´s about gods, festivals and colors in India, Chinese legends and Confucianism, or infectious joie de vivre and folk tales in Brazil: those who do not internalize the cultural DNA of the target markets and coordinate their own marketing accordingly will run into a wall. From Chinese philosophy to Hindu mythology, the extremely diverse future markets offer endless analogies to link a brand with the prevailing symbols, beliefs, tastes and myths. Niklas Schaffmeister (Managing Partner Globeone) and Florian Haller (CEO Serviceplan Group) explain the four factors that are especially important for this undertaking. All details can be found in our new Springer publication “Successful brand development in the major emerging markets”, written in German.

1. Referencing local worldviews: Reincarnation is a telling example

Each region has its own beliefs, religious convictions and myths. They express themselves in colorful rituals and festivals, in serious processions, or in traditional narratives. Western companies and brands have imaginatively used local myths and beliefs in many target markets. Volkswagen in India is a great example. For a while, the car manufacturer drove an ad alluding to the topic of reincarnation. Reincarnation is very important in Hinduism. The ad showed an old VW Polo, which was highly appreciated by its owner. Even in old age the man still took care of the vehicle. But he died when his daughter was expecting a child. The daughter and her husband buy a new Polo and discover that their grandson appreciates the car as much as his late grandfather. The analogy here is that the grandfather must have reincarnated himself in his grandson and thereby also transferred the love for the vehicle. The advertising spot culminates in the slogan: “The new Polo – so good that you will come back for it”.

2. Use local festivities: How to make effective connections

Religious and other traditional festivals in some countries initiate massive migration of peoples. Hundreds of millions of Chinese return home to their families to celebrate Chinese New Year. The whole country is on its feet for these emotional celebrations. They are wonderful occasions for brands to establish or expand connections with their target groups. Starbucks used the Chinese calendar in a clever advertising campaign to increase sales. The Seattle-based coffee chain developed a 30-day calendar around the annual Spring Festival, when all of China is on its feet and all Chinese give their loved ones red envelopes with gifts of money. The Spring Festival is often used in China for weddings, travel or other important events. One day in the Starbucks calendar was declared to be good for visiting relatives. Another day was reserved for blind dates. The calendar was distributed on social media platforms and the various days were linked to special offers in the coffee chain stores. Once, customers were asked to hug their parents in a shop to take advantage of an “order three, pay two” offer. On another day the drinks were free and customer cards were offered. With relatively little investment, Starbucks made its “Campaign of Daily Friendliness” a huge success. It is said to have increased sales revenues tenfold compared to other advertising campaigns.

3. Local research: Identifying future global trends at the source

Global trends usually emerge from the largest, most agile and creative markets. The large growth markets are therefore increasingly becoming the source of new standards and trends. For this reason, Western brands have been strengthening their local research and development in the markets of the future for some years now. Mercedes-Benz was one of the trendsetters in China. The car manufacturer opened a center for advanced design in Beijing in the first half of the decade. The reason was the farsighted assumption that the preferences of Chinese consumers will set global trends in the future. In addition to adjustments to infotainment and driver assistance systems, the R&D center is also researching the vehicle design of the future and the specific preferences of local consumers. Parallel to the opening of the R&D center, Mercedes presented its first local concept car, an SUV coupé crossover called “G-Code”. The car features numerous adaptations that serve the special taste of the local target group. In addition to borrowings from traditional national architecture, fashion and calligraphy, the design was also influenced by specific tastes of modern customers. The Chinese prefer an expressive and dominant design to demonstrate their individual social rise. This even includes striking gimmicks such as a radiator grille that can change its color.

4. Well translated is half integrated: When BMW turns into a “precious horse”

A local adaptation can be really tricky when it comes to the language. There are pitfalls lurking here. They can prove expensive if something goes wrong, especially when it comes to translating the brand name. Names are very important, for example, in the Chinese culture. Before the Cultural Revolution, it was a widespread custom to add a pseudonym to the family name and first name when you reached adulthood. From this self-chosen name one could deduce characteristics and activities of the name bearer. The same applies to brand names. From the point of view of Chinese consumers, the brand name is a manifestation of the culture and values of the product advertised. But with about 50,000 characters and hundreds of dialects, negligence in translation can end in disaster. Some German companies have succeeded in making successful transfers with the help of experts. The name for Siemens – “Xi-men-zi” – means “Gateway to the West”. In Chinese, the name BMW is “Bao-ma” – “Precious Horse”. And “Ben-chi” as a transmission from Mercedes-Benz is translated as “galloping fast”.

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