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Page1of 1 Lady Gaga, the Glass Bottle and the Secret to Cracking the Global Creative Code
by Ernie Schenck

It’s a small world, after all. It’s a small world, after all. It’s a small world, after all. It’s a small, small world.
Well, yes it is. And no, it isn’t.

It’s true that globalization has leveled the conceptual playing field. To a large extent, we all read the same books. We hear the same music. We share the same playlists. A pair of Levi’s in Singapore isn’t that different from a pair of Levi’s in London or Johannesburg or São Paulo.

And yet, in many ways, our cultural differences run as deep as they ever have. I might see the same movie as my friends in Istanbul or Kiev, but I don’t perceive it through the same societal lens as they do. What a Lady Gaga song says to me maybe isn’t the same as what it says to someone in Dubai. I see Argo and I am probably going to get something very different out of it than someone in Canada or Iran.

So how do you create great work for a global audience?

Tim Geoghegan is somebody who should know. He is a freelance writer and creative director. He’s worked in agencies from Boulder and New York to Buenos Aires and Singapore and he’s pretty much seen it all. If anyone understands the turbulent creative soup that is global advertising, it’s Geoghegan.

“I think one of the most important elements is a singular thread, a basic human insight that informs the strategy and the creative,” he says. “Take what Coke is doing with happiness or the ambition and drive in ‘Just Do It.’ Those insights are so high-level and archetypal that not only can they be understood everywhere, translated and aligned with existing cultural values, but they can be interpreted in their own unique local ways without losing the overall meaning.”

Rob Schwartz, global creative president at TBWA, says one of the first things creatives have to learn when talking to a global audience is that the only language that matters is human empathy, a deep understanding of what moves people regardless of where they come from. “When we came up with the Go campaign for Visa, it was predicated on the fundamental human truth that everyone wants to get the most out of life. It’s pretty hard to imagine someone in the world who doesn’t want that.”

So it’s important to understand the threads that connect us, mind and heart and soul, as human beings. A lot of that is intuitive. You’re in touch with the common rhythms of humanity or you’re not. The original iPod silhouettes campaign was universally joyful and would have been perceived that way on Mars, had it run there.

But as Schwartz also points out, it doesn’t hurt to stir the cultural creative pot once in a while. “A creative team in New York isn’t always your best bet to create work that will connect in Mumbai. At TBWA, we bring in different people, from different parts of the world, with different skill sets and focus them, for a fixed amount of days, on a single challenge. It’s this kind of creative gumbo that forces you to think human, not region. And it’s this kind of alchemy that generates the ideas you couldn’t, if you were just sitting in your lone part of the world.”

Getting out into the world is a huge deal, says Tim Geoghegan. “We all need to get out of our offices if at all possible. There’s no substitute for being among the people we’re trying to communicate with. You see so many little things. All of the petrol bottles on the side of the road in much of Southeast Asia’s rural areas are Pepsi and Coke bottles. A lot of those areas have education and health needs. The bottles are clear glass. Imagine if vital information, lessons, whatever, were printed or carved into them. Definitely an interesting media possibility and one that you’d never know about, sitting in a cubicle poring over the same books and websites."

In the end, what succeeds across borders isn’t a lot different from what succeeds anywhere else in advertising. An ability to feel what another person feels, what gives them joy, what fulfills their ambitions, the inherent human quest for a better life. This is the language that spans the gap between rejection and acceptance, clarity and confusion.

It’s a small world. And once you learn to stand in another’s shoes, you make it all the smaller. ca Schenck
Ernie Schenck ( is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.