#26 Building Global Brands, One Market at a Time

An article on how brands become a global language.

Hi, I’m Florencia Lujani and this is a new edition of Cultural Patterns, a newsletter on brands, culture and strategy. To the new subscribers, welcome! I’ll always try to make this worthy of your time. Hope you enjoy it and hit reply to get in touch with me. Florencia x

“The global is constructed locally just as much as the local is constructed globally” (1)

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a brand global, driven mainly by these three adverts, each global in their own way.

McDonald’s is, of course, a global brand using an instantly recognisable song with the perfect punchline in an execution that is wonderfully British (the best advertiser in the country? probably, a post for another time). As always, by Leo Burnett London.

Bodyform’s Wombstories is a tear-jerker and a truly global story, portraying so many untold experiences that I’m sure every single woman on this planet can at least relate to one of the stories in the ad. By the brilliant people at AMV BBDO.

Iceland’s tourism campaign asks us to let it all out in its beautiful landscapes to relieve tensions and feel renewed after months of worry and anxiety. It’s by MC&Saatchi in London and will run across the US, UK, Germany, Canada and Denmark to try to capture holiday-goers.

Arranged in a scale from local to global, the McDonald’s ad has more local references (I don’t think a non-British audience would pick up the representation of families living in council estates). Bodyform’s ad doesn’t include any nods to a specific culture or market, it’s probably made for audiences in developed countries in the West, where social taboos around periods are breaking down and women’s reproductive rights are indeed rights. The most global ad of them all is Iceland’s, which could run anywhere.

This doesn’t make them less great in any way, and ideas can’t do everything, but they made me think about the importance of culture in global marketing and how that is executed, market to market. As Marieke de Mooij (2) said:

'The main dispute in global marketing and advertising should not be about the efficiency of standardisation but about the effectiveness of cultural segmentation’



Technology, media, goods, the market, everything about our modern lifestyle helps disseminate culture at a global level. Successfully localising a global brand is responsible for 55% of the global brand’s success variation (3), so this brings challenges in terms of brand building, segmentation and market growth.

For marketers, the challenge is to make their brand easily recognisable, aligned with the same principles and strategic positioning throughout the world. They need to acquire global mindshare and get consumers across different cultures to identify the brand as a symbol of a given global culture.

Some brands try to appeal to ‘global consumers’, but I find it’s much easier to think of them conceptually rather than practically. Yes, people are constantly in touch and discovering elements from different cultures, and today we can reach people across the world, but in practical terms, people still rely on local (rather than global) meanings for interpretation, use and display of goods. Everybody is from somewhere, erasing the local is just not an option.

Mexico is the shit”, la prenda que ofende a quienes no entienden ...

And we can’t forget that global brands are also competing with local counterparts, so the task includes building a consistent brand across markets that hold different values, behaviours and preferences; while also maintaining relevance for local consumers to get a piece of the local market share. 

Global brands are incredibly powerful, they’re usually associated with higher quality, global culture or prestige compared to brands of the country of origin, and they have ‘higher perceived quality and prestige, global citizenship, and most importantly, higher purchase likelihood’ (4). Global brands have too much potential to risk losing local relevance.



Standardisation is tempting at a global level, but it’s hardly effective. Needs can be universal but values differ from culture to culture. The sociologist-anthropologist David Howes (5) said: 

‘The assumption that goods like Coca-Cola, on entering a culture, will retain and communicate the values that they are accorded by their culture of origin must be questioned. Often these goods are transformed in accordance with the values of the receiving culture.’ 

Excluding social and cultural factors in favour of top-down innovations and processes of localisation limited only to the product level (like packaging, taste, name) can hurt brands and result in low local relevance.

McDonald’s, Bodyform, Iceland - they exist in people’s minds as associations and networks of emotional connections, our job is to develop a clear understanding of brand values in consumers’ minds. The worst of both worlds is a localisation process without clear intent of integrating local nuances, producing advertising so bland and vanilla that results in perceived low cultural significance from consumers.

In the global setting, values have to relate to the cultural mindset of the target consumer. For example, take Apple’s new “Behind the Mac” ad focusing on UK creatives, and contrast it with the film below made for Chinese New Year, focused on family relationships and the social pressures of single working women in China. The brand’s values must fit the mental mapping of people, every time.


Selling identical products can make a brand global, but that’s when meaning-making processes like advertising are required to embed the brand with local values. Usually, values can be better communicated through the symbolic.

The phenomenon of brands functions in a similar way to the ‘myth’: the brand is not only the name of a product or a company, it is a symbol which involves a series of meanings which serve as an interpretive and emotional frame... Brands have become a global language’. (6)

The symbolic helps brands become a global language. Back to the three original examples, they are all tapping into the symbolic: feelings of happiness, women’s freedom of choice, and the power of nature. But they also adapt to markets without losing any of their brand qualities.

In such a complex context, global marketers understand the importance of a brand strategy that focuses on one message.

Red Bull is a symbol of fearlessness, Chanel a symbol of sophistication, Disney a symbol of imagination, Muji a symbol of simplicity.

They focus on communicating one brand characteristic that builds long-term brand equity in each market through local values, with a consistent brand positioning and thoroughly enjoyable local executions.

They marry a global positioning, with symbolic meaning and local values flawlessly, every time.


(1) William Mazzarella, Shoveling Smoke (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003)

(2) Marieke K. de Mooij, Global marketing and advertising: understanding cultural paradoxes (London: SAGE, 2010).

(3) Joan Llonch-Andreu, Miguel Ángel López-Lomelí and Jorge Eduardo Gómez-Villanueva, ‘How local/global is your brand? A technique to assess brand categorisation’, International Journal of Market Research, Vol. 58, No. 6, 2016

(4) Jan-Benedict Steenkamp, 'The uncertain future of globalization: Implications for global consumer culture and global brands', International Marketing Review, Vol 36, No. 4, 2019.

(5) David Howes cited in Marieke K. de Mooij, Consumer behaviour and culture: consequences for global marketing and advertising (London: SAGE, 2004)

(6) Roberta Sassatelli, Consumer culture: history, theory and politics (London: SAGE, 2007)

Thank you so much for reading, I’d love to hear some of your best and worst experiences working with global brands, so feel free to reach out by email or on Twitter :) If this the first email you’ve received from me, here are some of my latest articles.

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See you next time.