How to Advertise Your Product in Other Countries

5 lessons in how, where and with whom to choose an international marketing campaign

Written by Paul Gallant

Canadian exporters who envy the global brand awareness of Nike, Coca-Cola and Apple should start by looking at one successful homegrown campaign that spread around the world: Kraft’s enduring Philadelphia Cream Cheese Angel. The sassy angel debuted in Canadian TV commercials in 1994 and over the next 15 years, her “little taste of heaven” message was adapted for commercials in more than 35 countries, using different languages, performers, storylines and styles of humour.

Making the jump from a local advertising strategy to one that works in other countries for your firm may not take $2.4 billion (the estimated annual global ad budget of Nike ). And it might be born in a local ad agency office rather than on Madison Avenue. What it does require is figuring out how the sales pitch will play out across different markets, and finding the right advertising partners to help do it?

“With the Internet, which lets you sell all over the world, every company can consider itself a multinational now,” says Peter Gerritsen, president of Transworld Advertising Agency Network (TAAN), a Boston-based network of independent advertising agencies. “The question is when to start pushing your messages out to those other markets.”

If you have an established domestic advertising strategy, your No 1 temptation to avoid is to work with your local ad firm in other markets, perhaps simply translating your message for non-English audiences. But that can ring hollow in other cultures, even in countries as similar as the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., for example, appeals to patriotism are far more effective than in Canada, while self-depreciating humour works better north of the 49th parallel than below it.

“Don’t just pick up and run,” says David Gibb, executive vice president and managing director of the JWT Canada, the office where the Cream Cheese Angel was born. “You should do your strategy work first. Really understand, in the market you’re going into, who you’re trying to connect with, what are they thinking and feeling, particularly around the category you’re going to engage in and what’s the competition doing, since the competitive landscape can be completely different.”

Oreo cookies might be beloved by generations of North American children, but they appeared on shelves in China just 16 years ago, unknown to Chinese consumers. On the other hand, Gibb points out, demographic groups, like the middle class in China, might have more in common with their middle class counterparts in North America than their poorer fellow citizens.

Here are sevent quick lessons on how to advertise your company’s wares outside Canada.

1. Start out small. The most obvious way to reach numerous national markets is a multinational agency, which has offices in many countries. There are roughly 20 of these global companies, including international agencies like JWT or Ogilvy and Mather. Holding companies like New York-based Omicom Group and Interpublic Group, London-based WPP Group (which owns JWT), Paris-based Publicis Groupe and Havas Suresnes, and Tokyo-based Dentsu have a portfolio of agencies that can work together to develop a cohesive multinational brand.

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“With international agencies, it’s an issue of co-ordination and control,” says C. Samuel Craig, a professor of marketing and international business at New York’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. “It’s also an issue of getting the best ideas from around the world that can sell the product.”

Terry O’Reilly, host of the CBC radio show Under the Influence and co-author of the book The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, says working with one group of people, with one process and through one line of communication are key benefits to hiring a multinational. “The downside to that is they might not have the best offices in each country,” says O’Reilly. “They might be strong in London, but weak in India, strong in Australia, but weak in Spain. You’re going to have some good shops and bad shops in that 200-shop mix.”

The cost of hiring a multinational can also be prohibitive for small companies, especially those involved in only a handful of markets. “An international advertising agency is not going to be terribly excited about a client unless they’re spending—I’ll pick a number—at least $10 million on advertising,” says Craig. O’Reilly suggests that it might take $100 million to go international, considering the cost of TV ad buys—far beyond the reach of most Canadian firms. Gibb won’t provide a starting price—”that’s a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question”—but said JWT would work with clients with less than $5 million to spend internationally.

Read: The Cheapskate’s Guide to Advertising

2. Cherry pick the best agencies. Another option is teaming up with the best advertising agency in each market. In this era of big holding companies and multinationals, it’s an approach that’s a lot more work for the client and sometimes more expensive per market, but allows the advertiser to target specific countries and get the best work in each one. Using a network of independent agencies like TAAN is a down-the-middle strategy. There’s more coordination than choosing agencies market-by-market, plus more flexibility than with hiring a multinational. “You pay for an office only where you want it,” says Gerritsen.

3. Choose non-traditional marketing. Although traditional media like TV, print and outdoor advertising still eat the lion’s share of ad spending, social media, niche media like cable TV, sponsorships and cleverness can bring costs down. The Austria-based energy-drink company Red Bull first gained awareness by sponsoring extreme sports events, turning to print and TV ads only after it had established itself as an international brand.

4. One message for all or one message for each? Deciding on a single agency, a multinational or multiple agencies doesn’t settle the question of whether the advertising message should be standardized or customized in each market. Multinationals can do local advertising, while local agencies can execute multinational campaigns. They question is what works. Companies which have expanded by acquisition can find themselves with an array of advertising messages they need to reign in. “They might want to rationalize what they’re doing to achieve a stronger focus, and give the brand a common meaning and common identity in the various markets in which its sold,” says Craig.

At other end of the spectrum, global campaigns like those by Nike or Apple use virtually the same message all around the world. There’s certainly an economy of scale—create once, use everywhere. But it’s easier to do in certain product categories, like those with functional benefits, like laundry detergents, or those whose benefits are primarily emotional, so images, rather than words can spread the message. “No matter what country you’re in, you’re still dealing with the fundamental desires of the human species which don’t change culture to culture,” says O’Reilly.

Agency and company politics can play a role in how the message is shaped across multiple markets. Gibb concedes that the creative types like to generate their own ideas. “As soon as you introduce new players, their natural inclination is going to be to discard what’s come before, what’s been done elsewhere. They’re going to want to put their own stamp on it.” Craig says there has to be give and take between your head office, which has a broader vision, and local management, which is closer to the ground. “If it’s too centralized, corporate headquarters will impose an ad campaign on local markets they’ll find at best is inappropriate and at worst offensive and counterproductive,” he says. For smaller companies, Craig suggests that letting a local partner take the lead is not a bad idea, since success in each market is more important than co-ordination.

5. Don’t hesitate to tailor. Even messages built especially for a global audience will require local tweaking. Shooting a commercial intended to run around the world will have to, for example, represent different packaging and consider music rights in different countries. Remembering these cross-border challenges up front can save time and money later. The Cream Cheese Angel campaign demonstrated that a great idea can come from one country, maintain its core message as it crosses borders and still reflect distinctive local cultures.

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