“Brand in a box” – does toolkit marketing really work?

Posted on 07/02/2013


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A while back when social media was but a stroppy toddler, the IPA came up 10 principles to manage this new phase of advertising. They’re here if you’re interested, but the one that always seemed a bit too idealistic was principle no. three:

There are no campaigns, only a conversation

The world has awoken to the fact that somewhere, it is always midday and if information can be accessed 24/7, then companies need to change how they communicate. The idea is that campaigns shouldn’t really exist and instead we should be aiming to build personalised, long-term relationships between people and companies.

The fact is, agencies still work on campaigns and clients still ask for them. It’s what both parties expect and it’s far easier to think about a short period of interaction than a lifetime of loyalty and support that companies and people are meant to sustain. You don’t go on a first or even second date and plan your wedding, do you?

These marketing “initiatives” that I’ve been working on (and that I’m still working on) have one thing in common. They were being crafted and paid for by people who would never actually use them.

Working for an intermediary – regional marketing teams

Under instruction from global or regional HQ, agencies are asked to create campaigns that work across borders, can sustain translation, local adaptation and still hit the mark. Not just an effective piece of communication: an “initiative” that’s also multichannel and also universal enough to create a shared experience in multiple cultures. It’s fair to say that they’re asking a lot; but can this actually be achieved?

I do love a challenge and there’s definitely something exciting about the complexity you have to work with to deliver something like this. I also like getting into the heads of people from different countries and working between different languages (I studied French and German for 4 years at uni). However much I like it, I don’t think it the best way to market, advertise or communicate.

There are some pretty major problems with this one-size-fits-all approach to marketing:

Global/ regional brand activities– on paper they make sense…

  • Consistent look and brand experience
  • Cheaper to run
  • Reduces workload for local marketing teams


  • They can’t help but look and feel generic
  • The local market and customer’s needs can’t be properly catered for
  • Effective creative opportunities are missed, just because they are country specific

There are some shocking examples of this (pretty much anything by SC Johnson…) and these airbrushed, clearly dubbed hollow adverts fool no one.

(And the parody potential is immense…)

The alternative would be local activities designed and planned by local teams. But is this any better?

Going local

  • No need for translation, reworking or art development
  • You involve the people who will actually run the campaign (local marketers)
  • You’re free to capitalise on cultural insights and linguistic quirks
  • Original


  • It’s more expensive
  • It’s also more time and skill intensive. Your colleagues in Lithuania might not have much experience in PR
  • Brands are less consistent between different countries

So what to do? Marketing materials and ideas might work across borders, but they can’t be transplanted. It’s also impractical to reinvent yourself in every country. Surely there’s a middle way?

brand in a box

The “brand-in-a-box”

It’s always possible to find a compromise, the question is whether it’s worth it. The brand-in-a-box aka marketing toolkit is exactly that. It has your concept, a generic strategy, brand assets (artwork files for adverts, banners, a website template), but also room for countries to pick and choose what they do and how they do it.

The problem is that no one is really satisfied. The creatives don’t get to create anything, the developers never develop more than a basic shell and the local countries receive a half finished idea by FTP.

What’s missing is the energy. We’re not talking about instructions – no one reads them, let alone likes them – we’re dealing with emotion. The kind of emotion you get from creating or building something yourself, from getting involved in an idea.

What local markets need is a second pitch. Sell them the idea, let them add to it themselves. They need to be fired up, inspired and included it.

Enthusiasm can’t be packaged, but it can be grown. It’s just that no one’s found a way to do this… yet!

Posted in: Advertising