Ian Haworth
Executive Creative Director UK & EMEA

Dispatch from EMEA: Creativity at the Limits of Globalization

“Emotional connection is still at the heart of everything. Absolutely everything. The way you access that emotion and the way you tap into it, what content you use to create that, that’s different.”

Ian Haworth, Executive Creative Director UK & EMEA, Wunderman, directs the development of creative that must be meaningful to consumers everywhere from Spain to Saudi Arabia. While he says, “Emotional connection is at the heart of everything,” he admits that the connecting points between humans that transcend culture are actually quite few. Haworth must keep his finger on the pulse of the subtle, cultural differences between audiences, and the digital trends prevalent in each arena. With IAB, he takes a step back and reflects on the insights and themes that influence his decisions.

Q: Around the world, digital is turning things and experiences into media that were never considered to be media before. Have you noticed this or participated in it?

A: Yes, I have noticed that. There’s a constant strive for originality, to stand out. And standing out is really very difficult. We did something very interesting as a network, called “Coins of Hope,” to increase awareness about missing children in Europe. The actual idea wasn’t digital at all. We got the European government to re-mint one million €2 coins, and the head on the back of the coin is actually missing children. That’s an idea with a long tail, because that’s going to be in circulation until the coins run out. But if you just left it to traditional media, the amplification would disappear. The social nature of the campaign is really amplifying it.

So those things are happening, where you are using non-traditional, non-digital channels to launch massive digital campaigns. The pitfall is that they are sometimes difficult to produce, like trying to convince the European Parliament to reprint a coin. The advantage—when you pull it off—is that it’s massively differentiating.

Q: You oversee creative spanning quite a large and varied portion of the globe. How do consumers’ relationships with digital media vary across the regions under your purview?

A: In the more mature markets, it’s pretty constant. There’s paid media and tons of social content. A lot of it is fairly similar in terms of digital interaction. However, what tends to happen in the emerging markets is that they leapfrog to mobile first. That happened a lot in the Far East. Sometimes you see a lot of heavily mobile-first stuff, but equally some of the other media is still very traditional. Smartphone penetration is huge—huge—particularly in the Middle East. They jumped straight there.

Q: What are the most important considerations for advertisers who want to execute a global campaign in multiple, distinct markets?

A: There are natural connecting points for every human that transcend culture, but they’re relatively few. For me, the biggest consideration is cultural. What is the cultural state in that country, be it political or religious? Are they rich? Are they poor? Have they just had a war? Is their economy good? I remember once working for a bank. This was in Eastern Europe, Russia at the time, where they were still primarily cash economies. People didn’t trust cards, and this was not that long ago. [You also have to think about] media consumption. What media is consumed most in those markets? Data is a massive consideration, because privacy laws are different all over the world. You must also consider the role of a brand in that culture. Certain brands, they may be seen as prestigious in one country, yet not very prestigious in others. All of those are considerations.

Q: How do you handle it when two very different cultures could be accessing the same content?

A: Right, the culture in Saudi Arabia for example, is very different than in Holland, and you may have to do a campaign that covers both those countries. You need to know, are there any restrictions to access? Unless a country has restrictions on how their people use the internet, there’s not a lot that you can do about it. But a lot of content is geo-targeted. I go on YouTube, and it’s geo-targeted to where I am. But in principle, you can still go access it. For certain paid channels, you can really control how it’s seen, too. Understand that whatever you do, it’s truly a global campaign. You’re not going to do something that you know is going to completely alienate [your audience] somewhere.

The worst thing is going in blind. I’ve come across brands that think everyone’s the same. Like in the Middle East, ok, they’ve got loads of fancy cars. It looks very Western in some ways. It is so not Western in others. Even within the Middle East region there are differences. For example, the differences between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are massive, and you need to understand all of that.

Q: Is there anything that connects all of your audiences?

A: Emotional connection is still at the heart of everything. Absolutely everything. The way you access that emotion and the way you tap into it, what content you use to create that, that’s different. The power of driving emotional connection is still a fundamental truth, because you’re still talking to human beings.