Where can the hottest talent and most innovative media and marketing ideas be found? And, in today’s globalised world, can they become hubs to rival New York, London and Paris? Ben Bold reports.
From the crepuscular TV dramas of the Nordics and South Korean movies that mix Eastern and Western cultural tropes, to the plethora of South American auteurs commanding Hollywood budgets, cultural consumption is no longer limited to its place of origin but has found an appetite across the globe.
While mainstream culture has become less hemmed in by borders, so too has the world’s media and marketing industry.
For instance, Grey Worldwide’s US operation, which five years ago was 95% American, today enjoys a “very diverse culture” and is actively seeks more diversity in the sector across its global network.
“Putting 10 likeminded people into a room results in the predictable. Mix it up culturally, and it becomes more interesting,” says Per Pedersen, the global creative chairman of the agency — which is currently renamed Valenstein & Fatt after its Jewish founders as a means to promote diversity and tolerance.
The growing influence of creative, media and marketing from outside the historical centres of London, New York and Sydney is gathering pace.
For a snapshot, observers need only look to The Gunn Report’s top 25 league of the most-awarded countries in creative excellence in advertising to see which nations are climbing the rankings.
The most-awarded country in 2016 was the US, followed by the UK — no change for the usual suspects — but further down the list is a story of countries rising.
The biggest jump up the table was from New Zealand, up from 16th in 2015 to 6th place, followed by Thailand (14th up from 19th), while Sweden (10th) and United Arab Emirates (12th) both climbed two places.
Notably, Belgium (18th), Switzerland (24=) and Mexico (19=) managed to return to a significant level of creative recognition after an absence from the table, while Russia made its debut in the ranking in 21st place.
The Gunn Report has also produced a map of the world (see below) that indicates those countries that have featured in the top 25 since 1999. Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Turkey, Colombia and The Philippines have all appeared between two and 10 times, while Indonesia, Uruguay, Tunisia, Slovenia, Romania, Denmark, Russia, Lebanon, Taiwan, South Korea have each appeared once in the ranking’s history.
For Robert Ray, the managing director of global business at PHD, who also oversees global business and leads client Unilever’s global strategy team, China and India are deserving of particular note, collectively covering the five main disciplines he says are driving the media industry’s global agenda.
Whereas a decade or so ago, expats represented the media talent in China, today the “local talent has really up-skilled,” he says.
“There are three big things in China that are interesting,” he adds, pointing out it is a country of massive scale, with 160 cities each with populations of more than one million. “The first is that it’s an online-video-first market, and multiscreen planning is probably at a more advanced level than pretty much any market in the world.”
New media has leapfrogged traditional media in markets such as China, giving its talent a forward-focused approach to marketing — where perhaps Western counterparts are still glancing wistfully back over their shoulders at old media.
“If you’re a 20-something living with your parents and your grandmother upstairs, and in the corner of the room is the telly which is playing state TV, which is awful, you are really wanting long-form content from your phone,” says Ray.
“The second interesting piece in China is the whole digital ecosystem, with the likes of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent [and] the way that the big operators are working across everything from ecommerce to social to online payments, to entertainment and video. It means you’ve got people in the Chinese market who are really used to dealing right across those ecosystems [in a] much more integrated way than perhaps the more familiar Silicon Valley companies.”
For Ray, China’s third and final discipline of note is online retail, with the country’s standing as “the most dynamic ecommerce market in the world” speaking volumes.
India — which 10 or 15 years ago was largely renowned for it “fantastic” media research — is still developing. But for Ray it excels in two areas.
“The first would be mobile — again that’s a landscape changing so quickly,” Ray says. “Whereas, a few years ago everyone would have had old-school mobile phones, now it’s suddenly really quickly going to smartphones.”
According to eMarketer, smartphone adoption in India is growing apace, and 36.6% of mobile users – some 730m people – are smartphone users, compared with an APAC average of 47.5%.
“Mobile is a massive part of people’s lifestyles in India, particularly in rural areas. We’re using it absolutely at front-and-centre of comms strategy in India for all manner of clients,” Ray says.
Accordingly, PHD India won a Gold at Cannes Lions for Unilever’s ‘Kan Khajura Tesan’ (‘the earworm channel) campaign, which sought to reach a rural population plagued by power cuts and with only 20% traditional media coverage, and succeeded.
Mobile operators and content providers were brought onboard to offer consumers music, jokes and Bollywood content on their mobiles, content that was intercut with radio ads for Unilever brands.
The branded media channel attracted eight million subscribers in half a year, with one million unique caller engagements per month, and the campaign resulted in Unilever’s ads being heard more than 20 million times, and brand awareness rocketing.
“The other bit I’d call out on India is data,” Ray adds. “PHD as is working really closely with data providers, from first-party right through to third-party data, and building with that obviously all the other marketing skill sets required.”
While older, more ‘developed’ creative hubs continue to think creatively and strategically within certain conventions, these global newcomers are bringing a fresh, unique and unconventional perspective to marketing.
That is why, for Pedersen, Peru represents a fresh and deep pool of creative flair, and an “up-and-coming creative hub”.
“More and more talent is coming from there,” he says. “Lima is one of the strongest creative hubs, where if you go there you’ll find a very diverse culture, a weird mix of Spanish culture and Indian tribes, where unlike in a lot of other cultures, these people are working close together.
“On top of that, you’ve got Japanese culture, which is very strong in Lima. Just the fact that it’s a melting pot of Eastern Japanese, [American] Indians and European Spanish cultures creates an interesting mix that you see in the food and that you’re starting to see in creative ideas as well.”
Unlike the South American hubs of Brazil and Argentina, Peru is free from a history of traditional media, meaning they largely “skipped TV commercials”.
A case in point: Circus Grey Peru created ‘The Big Data Takedown’, which used social communications including a hard-hitting YouTube film to promote the destruction of superfluous data. The message was that data farms, which house the world’s virtual cloud, also contribute to huge amounts of pollution — “a single data center can take more power than a medium sized town”.
Pedersen is clearly not merely paying Peru lip service. Grey is celebrating its centenary this year and held an open brief across its global network. Peru won.
New Zealand, Sweden and beyond
For Ray, New Zealand is another market with “phenomenal creative”, defined by its small size, agility and lack of constraint. Two New Zealanders are working on Unilever at PHD’s London office and are “brave and not afraid to challenge”.
Y&R New Zealand’s ‘McWhopper‘ campaign – in which Burger King very publicly suggested a collaboration with arch-rival McDonald’s – dominated last year’s marketing awards, and further bolstered the country’s growing reputation for creative excellence.
Ray also mentions Dubai, the gateway to the Middle East, where the media landscape has opened up, while also name-checking South Africa and Brazil, which he describes as “very, very creative” and from where three of his team originate.
Pedersen, himself a New York-based Dane, likes what he sees from Scandinavia too. “Swedes and especially Danes have skipped the whole traditional media and went straight for fresh ideas,” he says.
Such an approach led to ‘The Swedish Number’ campaign, created by INGO (part of Ogilvy and Grey Worldwide), a campaign for the Swedish Tourist Association that punched way above its weight.
At its crux was a Sweden-based phone number that anyone from across the globe could call and which would be answered by a randomly selected Swede. Clearly the campaign played on the very Scandinavian tendency for friendliness, where an equivalent strategy would probably not have been considered for the likes of the UK.
The campaign generated nearly 190,000 calls from 186 countries, with more than 25,000 Swedes taking calls, including a volunteer in the form of Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven.
South Korea, Colombia and Israel
There’s a parallel to be drawn between global campaigns, such as The Number — that are built around a local focal point — and the operations of international players, that are becoming enriched by cultural variety.
For Jarek Ziebinski, global chief executive of Publicis One, which operates in 95 countries globally, in very dynamic, mostly small-to-medium-sized economies, overseas talent pools abound. He references Japan and Korea as “highly-digitised markets” that are “not surprisingly also producers of world-class technology and innovation”.
While Latin America’s Argentina is famous as a “creative force”, its strong creative reputation sometimes overshadows the fact that it is also home to many tech start-ups and have a vibrant digital, data and technology scene.
“It is right up there as one of the most digitally-developed markets in the LatAm region with plenty of examples of innovation, especially where creativity meets technology,” adds Ziebinski.
“Similarly, Colombia, another market in LatAm known for its creativity, also has a vibrant digital and technology scene which has seen the emergence of many digital and tech start-ups,” he says.
“Culturally, the Colombians are very entrepreneurial and creative and the combination of these two characteristics is definitely driving the direction of the market.”
Ziebinski also highlights Israel, known somewhat redundantly today as the ‘start-up nation’, for its virtues as a “matured digital sector that has strong growth and a well-established advertising, digital and media companies”. Meanwhile, Prague, he says, is the “logical choice” for companies to establish their hubs for Central and Eastern Europe.
Emergent hotspots like Romania
For Ziebinski, Eastern Europe’s Romania is also worth a mention. “Last year, Publicis Romania took to the stage at the region’s leading award show, Golden Drum to take home the coveted Agency of the Year award – winning over its competitors from more established markets in the region such as Poland,” he says.
IPG Mediabrands’ UM office in Romania dominated last year’s Festival of Media Global Awards, picking up Agency of the Year and a host of other prizes. Its ‘Sunday Grannies’ initiative (see below), created for Vodafone, won four golds, the most of any campaign. It followed in the wake of several Cannes Lions and Effies Awards wins.
Ray name-checks West Africa, citing great talent in Ghana, and Pedersen agrees, singling out countries like Rwanda and Botswana.
The latter also envisages more Japanese and Koreans populating the global creative market, while acknowledging that their English and foreign-living skills need further developments.
Grey has just acquired Vinyl I in South Korea, a company that works in “architecture and design”. “They built everything from 3D brand experiences, installations and touchscreen experiences and are “very hard to put in a box,” adds Pederson.
Nationalism vs globalism
The notion of a truly global media and marketing marketplace — in which cultural quirks transcend borders and cross-pollinate, reinvent and reinvigorate with conventional approaches — is an attractive one. But it is beholden to the vagaries of personal, national and global politics.
There are threats best personified by the likes of US president Donald Trump’s anti-immigration stance and the jingoist rhetoric of the UK’s European Union referendum and its continuing fallout. “When you see movements like Brexit, that continue to make it difficult for immigration, that’s not a good thing,” Pedersen says.
While Ray does not think these movements are currently having an impact on multicultural agency mixes, he admits “you’ve got to keep an eye on particular barriers”. His Unilever global strategy hub team comprises 14 nationalities, he adds.
Pedersen also reckons it’s a case of “wait and see” in terms of how nationalism will affect recruitment. “Already the hassle you have to go through to get people from other countries is increasing.”
Clearly, nationalism and cross-cultural creativity are at odds. But within advertising, there is hope that the nature of a global melting pot of ideas, that celebrates rather than denigrates difference, can have a positive effect.
Brand owners themselves are dependent on a world that is open and global.
“Whenever people build a wall, they prevent creative talent from moving,” Pedersen says. “Our job is to pull it down and encourage diversity.”