05 Apr 2019

Video for a Global Audience

Video might be a visual medium, but it comes laden with cultural baggage. That requires some skilled translation in an international market.

But video is more than visual content, with audio (both musical and spoken) and graphics giving shape and meaning to the creative output. There are a lot of things to think about when planning a video campaign for a global audience.

Cultural content creation

Nothing is more annoying than an ad clearly shot in America dubbed with an English accent to localise it.

Such a decision screams “we can’t be bothered to create something that’s culturally relevant!”. Surely it’s better to add local language captions than overdubbing foreign language voiceover. Especially as we’re becoming used to subtitles in an internet age.

But the question of relevant cultural content goes a heck of a lot deeper than spoken language.

Imagery, humour, music, context. All resonate differently in different cultures.

It is important not only to know the culture you are speaking to but also to respect its red lines. That is unless you intentionally mean to disrupt – in which case prepare for backlash.

Major missteps

I was in China last November when Dolce and Gabbana released three short videos on Weibo to promote a fashion show in Shanghai. The furore that followed led to severe repercussions for the brand. The company’s founders eventually apologised in public for the hurt they caused. This was not only due to the cultural insensitivity displayed in the adverts, but also the business’ attempt to deflect criticism.

The videos which triggered such offence might appear humorous to a European. But having seen first-hand how the Chinese reacted there can be no doubt that this was a serious breach of respect for Chinese culture. It was clumsy, and showed lack of understanding or care about people the brand was trying to sell to.

Video in particular, because it is such a viral medium, needs particular attention when it’s created to market to another culture.

This cuts both ways.

A European audience might find some of the marketing created in other territories strange and unappealing. This includes North America and Australia. Even within Europe country to country marketing can fall foul of local cultural norms.

Think locally

So what lessons can be learnt by brands wanting to pursue global campaigns or target specific territories?

Mainly that one size doesn’t fit all.

There is no such thing as a pan-universal sales video. Each iteration needs tailoring to its local audience.

It’s hard enough to create appealing, useful ad material for brands using local agencies for local audiences. As a foreign brand it is vital to get the cultural tone right. And to find the creative force in content marketing with the help of local partners who understand their audience.

Use specialists in their own territories to help get the content right. And make sure you run the final output past a local focus group before publishing.

This should prevent the kind of reverberations that are still swirling around D&G in China four months on.

By Nicky Robertson, Director